HHS Interim Guidance For Use Of Facemasks, Respirators During An Influenza Pandemic

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Pandemic Influenza and Facemasks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released interim advice to the public about the use of facemasks and respirators in certain public (non-occupational) settings during an influenza pandemic.

There is very little research about the value of masks to protect people in public settings. These interim recommendations are based on the best judgment of public health experts who relied in part on information about the protective value of masks in healthcare facilities.

The guidance stresses that during an influenza pandemic a combination of actions will be needed, including hand washing, minimizing the likelihood of exposure by distancing people who are infected or likely to be infected with influenza away from others and treating them with antiviral medications, having people who are caring for ill family members voluntarily stay home, and encouraging people to avoid crowded places and large gatherings. When used in conjunction with such preventive steps, masks and respirators may help prevent some spread of influenza.

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"Pandemic influenza remains a very real threat. We continue to look for ways to protect people and reduce the spread of disease," Secretary Mike Leavitt said. "The guidance issued today is a good step forward in the broader, multifaceted federal effort to prepare the nation for an influenza pandemic."

"During an influenza pandemic, we know that no single action will provide complete protection," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director. "We also know that many people may choose to use masks for an extra margin of protection even if there is no proof of their effectiveness. If people are not able to avoid crowded places, large gatherings or are caring for people who are ill, using a facemask or a respirator correctly and consistently could help protect people and reduce the spread of pandemic influenza."

Gerberding noted that while studies are underway in an effort to learn more about whether masks and respirators can provide protection from influenza and how people would use such things, the guidance was designed to be a "best estimate" based on what is currently known. It is designed to help guide people's decisions regarding the use of masks.

In the guidance recommends that:

People should consider wearing a facemask during an influenza pandemic if

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