New CDC Guidance Spells Out Respirator Use in Public Settings During Flu Pandemic

CDC on May 3 issued what it called "interim advice to the public" about the use of facemasks and respirators in non-occupational settings during a flu pandemic. Saying there is little research to go by, CDC noted these recommendations are based on the best judgment of public health experts and also information about the protection provided by facemasks in health care facilities.

Respirators are not the only protective measure necessary during a pandemic, CDC stressed -- hand washing, minimizing exposure by avoiding crowded places and large gatherings, treating the sick with antiviral medications, and having people who are caring for sick family members voluntarily stay home also will be needed. "Pandemic influenza remains a very real threat," HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said during the announcement of the new guidance. "We continue to look for ways to protect people and reduce the spread of disease. The guidance issued today is a good step forward in the broader, multifaceted federal effort to prepare the nation for an influenza pandemic."

The guidance says people should consider wearing a facemask during a pandemic if they are sick or have close contact (within about 6 feet) with others who are; they live with someone who has flu symptoms, or they are well and don't expect to be in close contact with a sick person but need to be in a crowded place. People should wear respirators if they will be, or expect to be, in close contact with people known or thought to be sick with pandemic flu. For more information about masks and respirators, visit www.pandemicflu.gov/vaccine/mask.html.

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