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Hygiene "better than flu vaccine"

Simple measures like handwashing are more effective than drugs at preventing the spread of viral infections and should be given higher prominence in pandemic management plans, research has claimed.

Professor Tom Jefferson, whose work was published in the online edition of the British Medical Journal, said current plans focused too heavily on vaccines and antiviral drugs even though evidence to support the effectiveness of either was scant.

His review of 59 studies indicated that the spread of respiratory viruses was best prevented by hygienic measures such as surgical masks, isolation of patients, and the wearing of gloves and gowns, especially when they formed part of a structured programme of education.

The team also found limited evidence that the more uncomfortable and expensive N95 masks were superior to simple surgical masks. The effect of adding antiseptics to normal handwashing in order to combat the spread of infection, however, remains uncertain.

The researchers urged the government to pay attention to the results and called for a nationwide handwashing and personal hygiene programme to be taught in schools.

Copyright © Press Association 2009

British Medical Journal