TORONTO, Oct. 2 - As an organization dedicated to the health of Ontarians, Public Health Ontario (PHO) strongly supports and promotes the practice of hand hygiene as one of the best public health precautions available for controlling the spread of respiratory infections.
An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published on October 1, 2009, titled "Conflict emerges over value of handwashing as a preventive flu transmission measure" provides misleading information to the public about the effectiveness of hand hygiene. The article cites a report prepared by a multidisciplinary panel for the Council of Canadian Academies. The panel was chaired by Dr. Don Low with a mandate to:
Review and identify the transmission of flu based on existing reviews and original literature
Assess the effectiveness of N95 respirators or surgical masks in the prevention of flu transmission among health-care workers
The report found that hand hygiene, which is a major mode of interrupting contact transmission, is a central component of essentially all influenza control protocols for both seasonal and pandemic disease.
There are many studies showing that handwashing is an effective means of interrupting or reducing the spread of viral respiratory infections. Dr. Vivek Goel, President and CEO of PHO, states, "Countries around the world promote hand hygiene as a cost-effective and easy method of controlling infection that can be followed by all ages."
The expert panel did note that there were no randomized control trials that specifically addressed the ability to control the spread of influenza through hand hygiene. However, this on its own does not lead to the CMAJ's suggestion that there is no evidence for the promotion of hand hygiene as a control measure for influenza.
Goel notes that PHO supports both the provincial and national public health campaigns aimed at flu prevention and protection.
For more information please visit:
Public Health Agency of Canada:
Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care: