ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Molecule in Skin May Link Eczema and Asthma
Folic Acid Might Offer Allergy Relief
Using Music and Sports to Improve Kids' Asthma
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Awareness of Alternative Therapies May Be Lacking
Uncover Why Turmeric Helps You Heal
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
ANIMAL CARE
Safe Toys for Dogs
Rest Easy. When It Comes to Swine Flu, Your Pet Is Safe
Beware of Dog Bites
BONES & JOINTS
Breast-feeding Might Shield Women From Rheumatoid Arthritis
High Birth Weight Doubles Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Health Tip: Back Pain in Children
CANCER
Some Spices Cut Cancer Risk That Comes With Grilled Burgers
Ginger Can Ease Nausea From Chemotherapy Treatments
Well Water Might Raise Bladder Cancer Risk
CAREGIVING
Simpler Sleep Apnea Treatment Seems Effective, Affordable
Study of Everest Climbers Questions Oxygen Use
Hospital Practices Influence Which Moms Will Breast-Feed
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Bye, Bye Back Fat?
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
Night Shift Work Hard on the Heart
COSMETIC
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
Gum Chewing May Cut Craving for Snacks
New Genetic Links to Baldness Discovered
DENTAL, ORAL
Acid Drinks Blamed for Increase in Tooth Erosion
Laser Technology Spots Cavities Before They Start
Biological Product Shows Promise Against Gum Disease
DIABETES
'Standard' Glucose Test May Be Wrong One for Obese Children
Brown Rice Bests White for Diabetes Prevention
Lifestyle Factors Tied to Older Adults' Diabetes Risk
DIET, NUTRITION
Olive Oil May Be Key to Mediterranean Diet's Benefits
Eating Well And Keeping Active As You Grow Old Will Help You Stay Sharp
Coffee Beans May Be Newest Stress-Buster
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Disinfectants Can Boost Bacteria's Resistance to Treatment
Chemicals in Carpets, Non-Stick Pans Tied to Thyroid Disease
Skin Woes Take Toll on U.S. Combat Troops
EYE CARE, VISION
Omega-3 Foods May Lower Eye Disease Risk
Time Teaches Brain to Recognize Objects
Kids' Eye Injuries From Golf Clubs Rare But Severe
FITNESS
Exercise Keeps the Brain Young
Many Cancer Survivors Don't Adopt Healthy Lifestyle
Vigorous Treadmill Workout Curbs Appetite Hormones
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
Olive Oil May Protect Against Bowel Disease
GENERAL HEALTH
'Soda Tax' Wins Health Experts' Support
Fructose Boosts Blood Pressure, Studies Find
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Study Suggests Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
HEARING
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Polyunsaturated Fats Really May Lower Heart Risk
Quitting Smoking Doubles Survival in Early Stage Lung Cancer
Women Who Run May Benefit From Extra Folic Acid
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Viral Infection Might Trigger High Blood Pressure
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Older People at Greater Risk of Swine Flu Death
Exercise Helps Reduce Falls in Young and Old
Exercise Eases Obesity and Anger in Kids
MEN'S HEALTH
Sunlight May Help Protect Men From Kidney Cancer
Lots of Sex May Prevent Erectile Dysfunction
Countdown to Hair Loss
MENTAL HEALTH
Love Hormone May Ease Discussion of Painful Topics
Estrogen May Help Men's Hearts
How to Attack Holiday Stress Head-On
PAIN
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Pregnant Women Exposed To Certain Pollutants Could Lower Childs IQ
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
Music of Mozart Soothes the Preemie Baby
SENIORS
Vitamin D May Help Keep Aging at Bay
Older People at Greater Risk of Swine Flu Death
Seniors Who Volunteer May Live Longer
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Sleeping Could Help Women Lose The Baby Fat
Exercising Throat Muscles May Relieve Sleep Apnea
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Supplements Might Reduce Breast Cancer Risk
Acupuncture May Ease Depression During Pregnancy
Mom and Baby Alike May Benefit From Exercise
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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