Now, the largest study to date on the subject suggests they do. When sick people and their families wear surgical face masks and wash their hands within the first 36 hours of symptoms, healthy family members are indeed less likely to get seasonal flu, researchers say. They think the results may apply to H1N1 as well.
So far, 94,512 people around the world have been infected with swine flu, and there have been 429 deaths in 122 countries.
"Many people believe that coughs and colds are so infectious that there is really no stopping them, however hard we try," says Benjamin Cowling, Ph.D., the lead author of the study published this week in Annals of Internal Medicine. "Our results suggest that is not the case, and, in fact, transmission can be effectively stopped with just some simple precautions."
The report says 30,000 to 90,000 deaths are projected as part of a "plausible scenario" involving large outbreaks at schools, inadequate antiviral supplies and the virus peaking before vaccinations have time to be effective.
Up to 40,000 U.S. deaths are linked to seasonal flu each year, with most of the fatalities occurring among people over 65. With seasonal flu and H1N1, this fall is expected to bring more influenza deaths and place "enormous stress" on intensive care units nationwide, which normally operate near capacity, the report says.
An H1N1 resurgence may happen as early as September, at the beginning of the school year, and infections may peak in mid-October, according to the report. However, the H1N1 vaccine isn't expected to be available until mid-October, and even then it will take several weeks for vaccinated individuals to develop immunity, the report says.
A person who gets a specific influenza and recovers generally has immunity to that specific virus for some period, usually a decade or two. After time the immune system may have a lapse in memory and the person can get re-infected. A very few individuals with compromised immune systems may be susceptible to it earlier.
Some viruses have been known to mutate or change just enough that people who had the virus just a short time earlier technically can be re-infected with the mutated or changed virus. We are still learning about the H1N1 and do not know if it will change so quickly.
This is a long-winded way of saying everyone should be vigilant. Even if you have had the H1N1, you should practice flu prevention. There are other germs out there that can be easily spread to include the seasonal flu. Wash hands frequently, and cough or sneeze into the upper arm. If sick with a fever or flu-like symptoms, stay home. Do not go to work or school if sick. Most flu viruses are spread when people start congregating indoors.
Where are our experts on this issue?
What is our research direction with our limited resources?
Young generation should look at this basic research, especially related to our health, food, environment, social and culture.