Saturday, December 01, 2007

Vaccines, Anti-Virals Will Not Stop A Pandemic's Spread

Face Masks, Handwashing First Better Than Drugs Later

New research shows that it is far better to stop H5N1 getting into your body in the first place, instead of relying on pharmaceuticals to treat it once you're infected. Obviously.

But the simple, and very effective, benefits from regular, thorough handwashing would still appear to be part of the information gap in preventing the spread of bird flu amongst humans.

From the Melbourne Age :

Face masks and regular hand-washing are more likely to halt the spread of a deadly flu than all the antiviral drugs stockpiled worldwide, Australian experts say.

A global review has concluded that simple physical barriers will be more effective than drugs to prevent a pandemic of bird flu or another virulent bug.

The researchers from Australia, Italy, the US and the UK warn that combining measures like hand-washing and rigorous use of masks, gloves and gowns could be the best, and indeed only, line of treatment.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, are at odds with most government pandemic plans, which rely heavily on large stockpiles of antiviral drugs like Tamiflu in an outbreak.

How much did governments of the world spend stocking warehouses full of Tamiflu? Was it $10 billion? Or $15 billion? The stockpiling is still going on :

The UK government this week announced it was doubling its stockpile of antiviral medicines in preparation for any future flu pandemic.

Co-investigator Professor Chris Del Mar, from Bond University on the Gold Coast, said cheaper, simple physical measures should be given higher priority in national pandemic preparation.

"The world is increasingly concerned about global pandemic viral infections such as avian influenza and SARS," Prof Del Mar and his colleagues wrote.

"Mounting evidence suggests that the use of vaccines and antiviral drugs will be insufficient to interrupt the spread of influenza ... but there have been no comprehensive reviews of this evidence."

The team reviewed 51 published studies on the effect of simple physical means of preventing animal-to-human or human-to-human transmission of respiratory infections.

They compared interventions like isolation, quarantine, barriers, personal protection and hygiene with doing nothing. They excluded vaccines and antiviral drugs.

They found that handwashing and wearing masks, gloves and gowns were effective individually in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses, and were even more effective when combined.

"In fact, combining these measures may be more effective than prescribing antiviral drugs in the event of a pandemic," they wrote.

The team called for further large trials to evaluate the best combination of interventions.

A Canadian expert writing in the same journal, Professor Martin Dawes, said governments worldwide should have commissioned such a study many years ago, given the potentially catastrophic effects of a pandemic.
Such a study had never been commissioned before?

It should have been, but anti-viral marketeers were winning the propaganda war back then. Let's hope the shift to actual physical prevention begins before the pandemic does.

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