ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Childhood Food Allergies on the Rise
Traffic, Dust Linked to Asthma in Kids
Using Music and Sports to Improve Kids' Asthma
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Many Cancer Patients Turn to Complementary Medicine
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
When Healing Becomes a Commodity
ANIMAL CARE
Safe Toys for Dogs
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
BONES & JOINTS
Tequila Plant May Help Fight Bone Loss
Tai Chi May Help Ward Off Knee Pain in Seniors
Varicose, Spider Veins May Be Inevitable for Some
CANCER
Well Water Might Raise Bladder Cancer Risk
Vitamin D May Improve Melanoma Survival
Many Cancer Survivors Don't Adopt Healthy Lifestyle
CAREGIVING
Injected Medication Errors a Major Problem
Are Hospital Mobile Phones Dialing Up Superbugs?
With Alzheimer's, Health-Care Costs Could Triple
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
Night Shift Work Hard on the Heart
Mercury in Fish Linked to High Blood Pressure
COSMETIC
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
DENTAL, ORAL
Dental Implants Need More Work Than Root Canals
Gum Disease May Reactivate AIDS Virus
Amino Acid May Be Key to Strong Teeth
DIABETES
Lifestyle Factors Tied to Older Adults' Diabetes Risk
Diabetes Linked to Cognitive Problems
Patients' Photos Help Boost Radiologists' Accuracy
DIET, NUTRITION
Natural Oils Help Lower Body Fat For Some
Breakfast Eggs Keep Folks on Diet
Vinegar Might Help Keep Off Pounds
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Green Areas Lower Health Inequities Between Rich, Poor
Bed Bugs Bring No Disease Danger
Clear Skies Have Become Less So Over Time, Data Show
EYE CARE, VISION
Stem Cells Repair Damaged Corneas in Mice
Florida Vision Test Law: Fewer Traffic Deaths Among Elderly
When Gauging Age, the Eyes Have It
FITNESS
Exercise Key Player in Knee Replacement Recovery
Brisk Walk Can Help Leave Common Cold Behind
'Safe' Ozone Levels May Not Be for Some
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
GENERAL HEALTH
Uncover Why Turmeric Helps You Heal
Diet, Exercise May Slow Kidney Disease Progression
Swine Flu Loves a Crowd
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Airport Full Body Scanners Pose No Health Threat: Experts
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Years of Heavy Smoking Raises Heart Risks
A Little Chocolate May Do the Heart Good
Whole Grains Lower Risk of Heart Failure
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Grapefruit Compound Inhibits Hepatitis C Virus
Older Adults May Have Some Immunity to Swine Flu
Chinese 'Devil Dung' Plant Could Be a Swine Flu Fighter
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Standard IQ Test May Underestimate People With Autism
More Calcium And Dairy Products in Childhood Could Mean Longer Life
Winter's Bitter Cold Poses Health Dangers
MEN'S HEALTH
Physical Activity May Prolong Survival After Colon Cancer
Whole Grains, Bran May Fight Hypertension in Men
Soy Linked to Low Sperm Count
MENTAL HEALTH
A Little Alcohol May Stave Off Alzheimer's
How to Attack Holiday Stress Head-On
Consciousness Helps the Mind and Body Work Together
PAIN
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Woman in America Are Delaying Motherhood, Study Says
Heart Defects in Newborns Linked to Antidepressants
Yoga's Benefits Outweigh Risks for Pregnant Women
SENIORS
Daily dose of beet juice promotes brain health in older adults
Seniors Who Volunteer May Live Longer
Friends, Not Grandkids, Key to Happy Retirement
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Better Sleep, Grades Seem to Go Up
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Being Active an Hour a Day Puts Brakes on Weight Gain
Supportive Weigh-In Program Keeps Pounds Off
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
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Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe

MONDAY, Aug. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Experts are still debating the usefulness of wearing surgical face masks to ward off the flu, and the results of a new study aren't likely to clear up the confusion.

Researchers in Hong Kong found that wearing a surgical face mask along with copious hand washing can help keep transmission rates for the seasonal flu down, at least among members of the same household. But it's unclear how much the mask adds to the already-proven benefit of good hand hygiene.

Plus, the strategies only worked when started within 36 hours of the patient developing symptoms.

"Our study shows that face masks are useful in households when one person has influenza, to prevent transmission to other household members," said study author Benjamin Cowling, an assistant professor at the School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong. "We did not study the use of face masks in other circumstances, for example for individuals trying to protect themselves against infection in other community settings."

According to Artealia Gilliard, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, current guidelines are unlikely to change based on the results of this study alone.

Those guidelines do not recommend the use of face masks in general, but can be "considered" for caregivers and if a novel H1N1 virus (such as the swine flu) appears in the community, Gilliard said. But the first line of defense would be to avoid high-risk situations and avoid being a caregiver.

"The best thing is to still listen to your local health department," said Dr. Scott R. Lillibridge, assistant dean at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health in Houston and executive director of the National Center for Emergency Medical Preparedness and Response.

The CDC-funded study appears in the Aug. 4 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, as does another study finding that the antiviral medications Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) are effective for preventing symptoms of the seasonal flu in healthy adults.

Hundreds of thousands of people around the world die each year from the seasonal flu. And the recently arrived swine flu circling the globe has made the task of finding ways to prevent infection more urgent. Many fear the swine flu pandemic, still causing only relatively mild illness, will become more virulent in the fall.

The face mask and hand hygiene study involved 407 people arriving at one of 45 clinics in Hong Kong with flu-like symptoms and who had laboratory-confirmed influenza A or B. Also involved were 794 household members from 259 households.

The patients and their household contacts were randomized into three groups: a control group that received "lifestyle education" only; instruction in hand hygiene methods such as hand washing with soap or alcohol hand rub; and surgical face masks with hand hygiene.

Combined face masks plus hand hygiene helped prevent the spread of the virus, but the benefit was small and only when precautions were started within 36 hours of symptoms appearing.

It's clear that hand washing helps prevent spread of the flu, and CDC guidelines support the practice. It's less clear how much masks matter.

And there are many variables in face masks these authors didn't address, Lillibridge pointed out.

"There are a lot of issues about face masks that tend to increase their usefulness. One is training. The second is proper fitting. The third is a new generation of face masks which have fibers that are treated with anti-viral and anti-microbial particles that increase killing. Those three important issues weren't properly factored in in this study," he said.

"In our study we used surgical masks, which should be available over the counter in drugstores," Cowling said. "Another less common type of mask is the N95-style respirator, which has a much tighter seal on the face and is only really recommended for use in health-care settings in some situations. These masks work best if they are fit-tested."

The authors of the second study reviewed all available research on Tamiflu and Relenza, and concluded that healthy adults who took the drugs for four weeks or longer were less likely to be stricken with symptoms of flu, although the drugs did not prevent people from actually becoming infected with the virus.

"They prevent the newly formed viruses from leaving the infected cells but they don't prevent initial virus from getting into the body," said study author Dr. Nayer Khazeni, an instructor of medicine in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Stanford University Medical Center.

The two drugs appeared to be equally effective, although patients taking Tamiflu experienced more nausea and vomiting, especially if given in higher-than-recommended doses.

Also, the authors noted, many groups have just never been studied in this context, including children under the age of 12, immune-compromised individuals and people who have received the nasal flu vaccine.

"Another finding was that all of the studies were sponsored by makers of the drugs, which is not surprising," Khazeni said. "They were good quality, but it's always nice to see an independent evaluation."

Although governments have stockpiled these two drugs to use during a pandemic, it's unclear what role the drugs play currently in the swine flu pandemic.

"It's not clear if there's a role for extended use of prophylactic medications," Khazeni said. "Some groups are targeted for extended-duration antiviral prophylaxis, such as high-risk groups and first-line health-care workers."

But these plans are for a more severe pandemic setting, she added.

Also, cases of seasonal flu and swine flu that are resistant to Tamiflu have been seen.

SOURCES: Benjamin Cowling, Ph.D., assistant professor, School of Public Health, The University of Hong Kong; Artealia Gilliard, spokeswoman, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Nayer Khazeni, M.D., instructor, medicine, division of pulmonary and critical care medicine, Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, Calif.; Scott R. Lillibridge, M.D., assistant dean, Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health, Houston, and executive director, National Center for Emergency Medical Preparedness & Response; Aug. 4, 2009, Annals of Internal Medicine