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What Momma taught us -- NOT Tamiflu or vaccine -- will save the most lives in a pandemic

mother-helping-daughter-wash-hands--bxp211669.jpgA new report -- the culmination of surveying some 51 other medical reports and historical journals -- says that hand washing, proper hygiene, personal protective equipment and "doing what Momma taught us" will save the most lives in the civilized world once a pandemic arrives.

The report, summarized in this US News and World Report story, can be found at this link: http://health.usnews.com/usnews/health/healthday/071129/handwashing-masks-beat-drugs-at-fighting-flu.htm

Handwashing, Masks Beat Drugs at Fighting Flu

Data review finds they're best at keeping individuals safe

Posted 11/29/07

THURSDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to fighting the spread of influenza and other respiratory viruses, physical barrier measures -- such as handwashing and wearing masks, gloves and gowns -- may be more effective than drugs.

That's the conclusion of new research by experts who reviewed 51 published studies on the topic.

While many nations are stockpiling antiviral drugs to prepare for a possible future flu pandemic, there's increasing evidence that such drugs and vaccines won't be sufficient to block the spread of a major outbreak, noted a team led by Chris Del Mar of the faculty of health sciences and medicine at Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia.

On the other hand, there's clear evidence of a link between personal and environmental hygiene and infections, the researchers said. However, until now, there haven't been any comprehensive reviews of this evidence.

The studies examined by the review authors compared interventions to prevent viral animal-to-human or human-to-human transmission of respiratory viruses -- isolation, quarantine, social distancing, barriers, personal protection and hygiene -- to other kinds of interventions or to doing nothing. These studies did not include antiviral drugs or vaccines.

Handwashing and wearing masks, gloves and gowns were effective individually in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses, and were even more effective when all three were used in combination, the review authors found. Combining these measures may be more effective than antiviral drugs in fighting a pandemic, they said.

The review was published online Wednesday in the British Medical Journal.

Readers of this column know that I have been preaching this for months.  The quick summary is that a vaccine, if ever effective at all, will not arrive until the Second Wave of a pandemic.  So the First Wave of 8-12 weeks will already have happened, and a significant portion of the Earth's population will already be immune to the virus, strong drift and/or shift notwithstanding.  And there are just not enough antivirals to go around; and Los Alamos even says that antivirals such as Tamiflu only forestall the pandemic; it will not eliminate it, according to supercomputer-driven exhaustive scenario after scenario. 

So what Momma taught us, plus the application of PPEs and Non-Pharmeceutical Interventions, are our best hope for saving lives and delaying a pandemic.  Government and corporate leaders would do well to heed this advice and do the following:

1.  Stockpile the cheaper solution:  masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and disinfectants.

2.  Stockpile knowledge:  Teach people to wash their hands, sneeze correctly, cough properly, and how to clean up after themselves.

3.  Teach janitorial concerns how to clean hard surfaces -- and how NOT to vacuum in a pandemic.

4.  Remind everyone what Momma taught us:  Wash your hands, exercise proper hygiene, and keep a respectable distance from strangers.

5.  Begin this TODAY, when the ROI from such matters can be applied to seasonal flu and other maladies.

We need to shift this debate away from stockpiling antivirals and toward doing the things we know we can do and the things we know we can count upon.  You want a quick way to double antirivals?  Stockpile cheap, plentiful Probenecid and administer it alongside Tamiflu (see my earlier posts and Google "probenecid" as well).

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