Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings—Personal Protective and Environmental Measures
Volume 26, Number 5—May 2020 - Policy Review
"We did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility (Figure 2)."
There were 3 influenza pandemics in the 20th century, and there has been 1 so far in the 21st century. Local, national, and international health authorities regularly update their plans for mitigating the next influenza pandemic in light of the latest available evidence on the effectiveness of various control measures in reducing transmission. Here, we review the evidence base on the effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical personal protective measures and environmental hygiene measures in nonhealthcare settings and discuss their potential inclusion in pandemic plans. Although mechanistic studies support the potential effect of hand hygiene or face masks, evidence from 14 randomized controlled trials of these measures did not support a substantial effect on transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza. We similarly found limited evidence on the effectiveness of improved hygiene and environmental cleaning. We identified several major knowledge gaps requiring further research, most fundamentally an improved characterization of the modes of person-to-person transmission.
Influenza pandemics occur at irregular intervals when new strains of influenza A virus spread in humans (1). Influenza pandemics cause considerable health and social impact that exceeds that of typical seasonal (interpandemic) influenza epidemics. One of the characteristics of influenza pandemics is the high incidence of infections in all age groups because of the lack of population immunity. Although influenza vaccines are the cornerstone of seasonal influenza control, specific vaccines for a novel pandemic strain are not expected to be available for the first 5–6 months of the next pandemic. Antiviral drugs will be available in some locations to treat more severe infections but are unlikely to be available in the quantities that might be required to control transmission in the general community. Thus, efforts to control the next pandemic will rely largely on nonpharmaceutical interventions.
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Most influenza virus infections cause mild and self-limiting disease; only a small fraction of case-patients require hospitalization. Therefore, influenza virus infections spread mainly in the community. Influenza virus is believed to be transmitted predominantly by respiratory droplets, but the size distribution of particles responsible for transmission remains unclear, and in particular, there is a lack of consensus on the role of fine particle aerosols in transmission (2,3). In healthcare settings, droplet precautions are recommended in addition to standard precautions for healthcare personnel when interacting with influenza patients and for all visitors during influenza seasons (4). Outside healthcare settings, hand hygiene is recommended in most national pandemic plans (5), and medical face masks were a common sight during the influenza pandemic in 2009. Hand hygiene has been proven to prevent many infectious diseases and might be considered a major component in influenza pandemic plans, whether or not it has proven effectiveness against influenza virus transmission, specifically because of its potential to reduce other infections and thereby reduce pressure on healthcare services.
In this article, we review the evidence base for personal protective measures and environmental hygiene measures, and specifically the evidence for the effectiveness of these measures in reducing transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza in the community. We also discuss the implications of the evidence base for inclusion of these measures in pandemic plans.
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