ONTARIO: Use good hand hygiene - not masks - to prevent swine flu spread, experts say
Posted: April 28th, 2009 - 8:29pm
TORONTO -- Images of Mexicans donning surgical masks in a bid to prevent swine flu infection may make Canadians wonder if they should follow suit. But except in certain health-care settings, experts say such a step isn't warranted - at least not yet.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Andrew Simor said surgical masks are recommended for staff in the close confines of hospitals and long-term care centres to prevent transmission of flu viruses and other microbes from patients to care providers.
The risk of health-care workers contracting influenza from an infected patient is increased because of prolonged close contact and medical procedures that may cause the patient "to cough and splutter all over you," said Simor of Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
But when it comes to the public at large, wearing masks would have little benefit, he said. "Those things don't happen as you're sort of going about your daily business buying groceries or watching a movie."
"There is absolutely no data to suggest this makes any difference or is at all protective for any individual. Now that's not to say it's going to cause any harm, but there's no evidence to suggest that it's actually effective."
Simor said that in his opinion, there is no need for Canadians to rush out to buy protective masks. Instead, he stressed the importance of good hand-washing practices to prevent transmission of the virus.
Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, echoed that advice, saying his agency is not recommending that people wear protective masks at work or elsewhere as a precautionary measure.
"I would rather people really focus on hand-washing, not giving that little kiss of greeting when you're meeting someone, of doing those sorts of things, covering your cough and your sneeze."