Background: During the influenza A(H1N1) pandemic, antiviral prescribing was limited, vaccines were not available early, and the effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) was uncertain. Our study examined whether use of face masks and hand hygiene reduced the incidence of influenza-like illness (ILI).
Methods: A randomized intervention trial involving 1437 young adults living in university residence halls during the 2006-2007 influenza season was designed. Residence halls were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups-face mask use, face masks with hand hygiene, or control- for 6 weeks. Generalized models estimated rate ratios for clinically diagnosed or survey-reported ILI weekly and cumulatively.
Results: We observed significant reductions in ILI during weeks 4-6 in the mask and hand hygiene group, compared with the control group, ranging from 35% (confidence interval [CI], 9%-53%) to 51% (CI, 13%-73%), after adjusting for vaccination and other covariates. Face mask use alone showed a similar reduction in ILI compared with the control group, but adjusted estimates were not statistically significant. Neither face mask use and hand hygiene nor face mask use alone was associated with a significant reduction in the rate of ILI cumulatively.
Conclusions: These findings suggest that face masks and hand hygiene may reduce respiratory illnesses in shared living settings and mitigate the impact of the influenza A(H1N1) pandemic.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT00490633.