Flu Prevention: Simple Precautions Really Work

Now that we are in the midst of flu season, there’s a lot of anxiety about vaccines and treatments. So it’s always good to be reminded of good old common sense practices to prevent infection in the first place. This week, esteemed British Medical Journal has published an excellent review article (link at bottom) which looks at those simple precautions — and yes, indeed, there’s excellent evidence that common sense works!

Their main conclusions for the most effective treatments:

  • Thorough disinfection — 70% decrease
  • Handwashing more than 10 times daily – 55% decrease
  • Wearing masks — 68% decrease
  • Wearing N95 masks — 91% decrease
  • Wearing gloves — 57% decrease
  • Wearing gowns — 77% decrease
  • Handwashing, masks, gloves, and gowns combined — 91% decrease

Obsessive-Compulsives Are Right!

Let’s review those findings a bit. First, handwashing is extremely effective at reducing the spread of a virus. Unfortunately, it has to be done often — and correctly! As I discussed before, you need to wash with soap and water for 40-60 seconds or use alcohol-based gel for 20 seconds. I’m a big fan of those Purell-style alcohol gels; and it’s really not very practical to get someone to count to 60 every time they use soap and water. So stock up on alcohol gels!

It’s also important that your ayi is hand washing properly as well. I found a good website with PDF hand-washing instructions in multiple languages, including Chinese; print one that she can look at. This issue is another reason the alcohol gels are good; you can leave these plastic bottles all over the house and one squirt a few times a day is a lot more practical for an ayi (or anyone) than running to the sink with soap and water.

By the way, there’s little to no evidence that the antibacterial soaps do anything better than regular soap, so save your money.

And the winners are...
And the winners are…

Sorry, Cheap Masks Don’t Work Well

This review also reiterates what I mentioned before; that the cheap, regular surgical masks work a little bit, but not nearly as well as the N95 masks. And forget about layering; even wearing as much as 5 layers of the regular surgical mask wasn’t as good as N95!

The Take-Home Message (Literally)

But we have to be honest here; it’s not easy at all to wear masks all day, let alone gowns and gloves. But households with small children definitely benefit the most from more aggressive measures. In one Hong Kong study, if all family household members used masks and alcohol gel handwash within 36 hours of a family member’s viral infection, the risk of a family member getting sick was cut by 67%.

Article: Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses: systematic review — Jefferson et al. 339: b3675 — BMJ. You can also download the PDF

Follow me on:
Twitter @RichardStCyrMD
Facebook @BainbridgeBabaDoc
Photography: richardsaintcyr.com

Leave a Reply