Monday, October 18, 2021

RETROSPECTIVE: CDC Publishes Public Etiquette for Reduction of Virus Transmission; You May Be Surprised at Their Findings

Source: CDC

Published: May 5, 2020

By: Jingyi Xiao1, Eunice Y. C. Shiu1, Huizhi Gao, Jessica Y. Wong, Min W. Fong, Sukhyun Ryu, and Benjamin J. Cowling


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.

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.

Methods and Results

We conducted systematic reviews to evaluate the effectiveness of personal protective measures on influenza virus transmission, including hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, and face masks, and a systematic review of surface and object cleaning as an environmental measure (Table 1). We searched 4 databases (Medline, PubMed, EMBASE, and CENTRAL) for literature in all languages. We aimed to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of each measure for laboratory-confirmed influenza outcomes for each of the measures because RCTs provide the highest quality of evidence. For respiratory etiquette and surface and object cleaning, because of a lack of RCTs for laboratory-confirmed influenza, we also searched for RCTs reporting effects of these interventions on influenza-like illness (ILI) and respiratory illness outcomes and then for observational studies on laboratory-confirmed influenza, ILI, and respiratory illness outcomes. For each review, 2 authors (E.Y.C.S. and J.X.) screened titles and abstracts and reviewed full texts independently.

We performed meta-analysis for hand hygiene and face mask interventions and estimated the effect of these measures on laboratory-confirmed influenza prevention by risk ratios (RRs). We used a fixed-effects model to estimate the overall effect in a pooled analysis or subgroup analysis. No overall effect would be generated if there was considerable heterogeneity on the basis of I2 statistic >75% (6). We performed quality assessment of evidence on hand hygiene and face mask interventions by using the GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) approach (7). We provide additional details of the search strategies, selection of articles, summaries of the selected articles, and quality assessment (Appendix).

Personal Protective Measures

Hand Hygiene

Thumbnail of Meta-analysis of risk ratios for the effect of hand hygiene with or without face mask use on laboratory-confirmed influenza from 10 randomized controlled trials with >11,000 participants. A) Hand hygiene alone; B) hand hygiene and face mask; C) hand hygiene with or without face mask. Pooled estimates were not made if there was high heterogeneity (I2 >75%). Squares indicate risk ratio for each of the included studies, horizontal lines indicate 95% CIs, dashed vertical lines ind
Figure 1. Meta-analysis of risk ratios for the effect of hand hygiene with or without face mask use on laboratory-confirmed influenza from 10 randomized controlled trials with >11,000 participants. A) Hand hygiene alone;...

We identified a recent systematic review by Wong et al. on RCTs designed to assess the efficacy of hand hygiene interventions against transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza (8). We used this review as a starting point and then searched for additional literature published after 2013; we found 3 additional eligible articles published during the search period of January 1, 2013–August 13, 2018. In total, we identified 12 articles (9–20), of which 3 articles were from the updated search and 9 articles from Wong et al. (8). Two articles relied on the same underlying dataset (16,19); therefore, we counted these 2 articles as 1 study, which resulted in 11 RCTs. We further selected 10 studies with >10,000 participants for inclusion in the meta-analysis (Figure 1). We excluded 1 study from the meta-analysis because it provided estimates of infection risks only at the household level, not the individual level (20). We did not generate an overall pooled effect of hand hygiene only or of hand hygiene with or without face mask because of high heterogeneity in individual estimates (I2 87 and 82%, respectively). The effect of hand hygiene combined with face masks on laboratory-confirmed influenza was not statistically significant (RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.73–1.13; I2 = 35%, p = 0.39). Some studies reported being underpowered because of limited sample size, and low adherence to hand hygiene interventions was observed in some studies.

We further analyzed the effect of hand hygiene by setting because transmission routes might vary in different settings. We found 6 studies in household settings examining the effect of hand hygiene with or without face masks, but the overall pooled effect was not statistically significant (RR 1.05, 95% CI 0.86–1.27; I2 = 57%, p = 0.65) (Appendix Figure 4) (11–15,17). The findings of 2 studies in school settings were different (Appendix Figure 5). A study conducted in the United States (16) showed no major effect of hand hygiene, whereas a study in Egypt (18) reported that hand hygiene reduced the risk for influenza by >50%. A pooled analysis of 2 studies in university residential halls reported a marginally significant protective effect of a combination of hand hygiene plus face masks worn by all residents (RR 0.48, 95% CI 0.21–1.08; I2 = 0%, p = 0.08) (Appendix Figure 6) (9,10).

In support of hand hygiene as an effective measure, experimental studies have reported that influenza virus could survive on human hands for a short time and could transmit between hands and contaminated surfaces (2,21). Some field studies reported that influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 and influenza A(H3N2) virus RNA and viable influenza virus could be detected on the hands of persons with laboratory-confirmed influenza (22,23), supporting the potential of direct and indirect contact transmission to play a role in the spread of influenza. Other experimental studies also demonstrated that hand hygiene could reduce or remove infectious influenza virus from human hands (24,25). However, results from our meta-analysis on RCTs did not provide evidence to support a protective effect of hand hygiene against transmission of laboratory-confirmed influenza. One study did report a major effect, but in this trial of hand hygiene in schools in Egypt, running water had to be installed and soap and hand-drying material had to be introduced into the intervention schools as part of the project (18). Therefore, the impact of hand hygiene might also be a reflection of the introduction of soap and running water into primary schools in a lower-income setting. If one considers all of the evidence from RCTs together, it is useful to note that some studies might have underestimated the true effect of hand hygiene because of the complexity of implementing these intervention studies. For instance, the control group would not typically have zero knowledge or use of hand hygiene, and the intervention group might not adhere to optimal hand hygiene practices (11,13,15).

Hand hygiene is also effective in preventing other infectious diseases, including diarrheal diseases and some respiratory diseases (8,26). The need for hand hygiene in disease prevention is well recognized among most communities. Hand hygiene has been accepted as a personal protective measure in >50% of national preparedness plans for pandemic influenza (5). Hand hygiene practice is commonly performed with soap and water, alcohol-based hand rub, or other waterless hand disinfectants, all of which are easily accessible, available, affordable, and well accepted in most communities. However, resource limitations in some areas are a concern when clean running water or alcohol-based hand rub are not available. There are few adverse effects of hand hygiene except for skin irritation caused by some hand hygiene products (27). However, because of certain social or religious practices, alcohol-based hand sanitizers might not be permitted in some locations (28). Compliance with proper hand hygiene practice tends to be low because habitual behaviors are difficult to change (29). Therefore, hand hygiene promotion programs are needed to advocate and encourage proper and effective hand hygiene.

Respiratory Etiquette

Respiratory etiquette is defined as covering the nose and mouth with a tissue or a mask (but not a hand) when coughing or sneezing, followed by proper disposal of used tissues, and proper hand hygiene after contact with respiratory secretions (30). Other descriptions of this measure have included turning the head and covering the mouth when coughing and coughing or sneezing into a sleeve or elbow, rather than a hand. The rationale for not coughing into hands is to prevent subsequent contamination of other surfaces or objects (31). We conducted a search on November 6, 2018, and identified literature that was available in the databases during 1946–November 5, 2018. We did not identify any published research on the effectiveness of respiratory etiquette in reducing the risk for laboratory-confirmed influenza or ILI. One observational study reported a similar incidence rate of self-reported respiratory illness (defined by >1 symptoms: cough, congestion, sore throat, sneezing, or breathing problems) among US pilgrims with or without practicing respiratory etiquette during the Hajj (32). The authors did not specify the type of respiratory etiquette used by participants in the study. A laboratory-based study reported that common respiratory etiquette, including covering the mouth by hands, tissue, or sleeve/arm, was fairly ineffective in blocking the release and dispersion of droplets into the surrounding environment on the basis of measurement of emitted droplets with a laser diffraction system (31).

Respiratory etiquette is often listed as a preventive measure for respiratory infections. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this measure. Whether respiratory etiquette is an effective nonpharmaceutical intervention in preventing influenza virus transmission remains questionable, and worthy of further research.

Face Masks...

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