Wash hands, open windows to help stop spread of flu, Tulane study says

November 1, 2013

Arthur Nead
Phone: 504-247-1443

Health education can be a significant factor in preventing flu from spreading, according to a newly published Tulane University study on flu transmission within households during a 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak in Beijing. First called "swine flu" because it is similar to a strain found in pigs, the H1N1 virus, a seasonal influenza, is still circulating.

"Winter is coming and with it, the threat of flu, including H1N1, is becoming big," says Sun Wenjie, a global health postdoctoral associate at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and leader of the study.

The study found that households with generally higher levels of education tended to have lower H1N1 transmission rates between members, as these households more frequently ventilated living areas and members washed their hands more often.

"H1N1 is a respiratory disease and is easily transferred through close contact, and contaminated hands can serve as vehicles of transmission of upper-respiratory illness," says Wenjie. "On these grounds, strengthening public health education and promotion of proper personal hygiene practices may have a positive impact on prevention of pandemic H1N1 flu."

The study focuses on living conditions and behavior that can influence the spread of flu among members of a household. The researchers compared rates of flu transmission within 54 case households, in which there was a self-quarantined index patient (the first case identified within the group) as well as a secondary case, to disease transmission in 108 control households, each with a self-quarantined first patient and another family member in close contact.

Household density plays a significant role in spreading flu, concluded the researchers. Compared to close contacts living in a single room, the risk of infection of those sharing a room with the index patient was 3.29 times greater, according to the study.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000