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Swine flu prevention - is hand washing with soap effective?

Author: Tamer M. Fouad, M.D. | Submitted: January 02, 2010. Updated: January 02, 2010.

Tamer M. Fouad, M.D.'s avatar

We see a lot of government sponsored ads telling us to use hand soap. In fact the CDC website recommends the following protective measures be taken by the general public: “Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub”.1 Similarly, in the UK, the government website DirectGov states: “To reduce the risk of catching or spreading the virus you should… wash your hands regularly with soap and water”.2

While some may argue that it wouldn’t harm, other preventive measures such as school closure in the U.S. and other parts of the world and China’s strict quarantine policies are harmful. But how much science is actually behind these measure and is the data strong enough? In the case of soap washing what is the strength of evidence that flu is transmitted by direct contact? We know that happens with the common cold (rhinovirus) but we don’t have that same evidence for influenza!

An editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine discusses “The Need for Science in the Practice of Public Health” with regards to the H1N1 pandemic.3

Tamer M. Fouad, M.D.. Swine flu prevention - is hand washing with soap effective?. Doctors Lounge Website. Available at: Accessed February 08 2023.


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