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Simple Steps Curb Respiratory Viruses

Hand Washing and Other Nondrug Tactics Make a Difference, Review Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 29, 2007 -- Just in time for flu season, researchers are making recommendations to cut the spread of respiratory viruses -- without drugs.

Those tips -- from experts including Tom Jefferson, MD, of Cochrane Vaccines Field in Italy -- include:

  • Wash hands frequently (with or without antiseptics)
  • Health care workers should wear medical gloves, gowns, and masks
  • Isolate people with suspected respiratory tract infections

Jefferson's team isn't against the use of vaccines or drugs to fight flu and other respiratory illnesses. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the single best way to protect against flu, notes the CDC.

But they note that not all respiratory viruses have vaccines or medications, and that some viruses may best be fought using more than one tactic.

Jefferson and colleagues based their recommendations on 51 studies.

The studies varied in design. Some included kids, while others focused on military personnel, health care workers, and Asia's 2003 outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

Hand washing, patient isolation, and the use of gloves, gowns, and masks all helped curb the spread of respiratory viruses, according to the review.

Participants didn't wear medical gloves, gowns, and masks out and about in their neighborhoods. Those studies took place in hospitals and included health care workers and patients.

None of the studies used vaccines or medications.

The review appears in the advance online edition of BMJ, formerly called the British Medical Journal.

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