20 February 2007

Flu experiment

CNN is all ranting and raving about a University of Michigan study in which some 2,000 students living in the dorms are wearing face masks and using hand sanitizer throughout flu season to empirically discover their effectiveness at reducing the spread of the flu.

Apparently even though there's lots of anecdotes about masks helping prevent illness, there haven't been any real solid data about it. On the one hand, I think it's great that they're getting hard empirical evidence about the spread of flu in preparation for a potential pandemic (as well as studying to sociological/psychological aspects of having people wear masks!), and on the other hand it strikes me as a "no duh!" moment.

And no good story goes un-anecdoted. In Spring 2006, a year ago, I was to start treatments with Remicade, which has immunosuppressant side effects. Because I didn't want to get sick while on it, before I even started the treatments, I started washing my hands or applying antibacterial gel after every class. Prior to doing so, I would typically get a mild cold during the first week of EVERY semester, and often catch a moderate cold during the middle of the semester. I did not get any notable illnesses in Spring 2006, so I repeated it in Fall 2006, also failling to catch ill. This Spring I was sick three days after the first day of meetings of Spring 2007 - I forgot to wash my hands all day.

I went a full year without illnesses, simply by washing my hands three times during my work day, every work day. Give it a try yourself; maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised. BUT do NOT try this with children. They need to build up their immune systems - as adults, ours are already fixed, but kids's immune systems have to learn it's ok to have some amount of germs around. Without continual mild exposures to germs, kids are at a higher risk for developing allergies and asthma, or so the latest research suggests (not that I have a source handy).


Michael said...

That's interesting about children needing to boost their immune systems - I should tell my sister that. She has two kids and is constantly "Purelling" them.

What do you think of supplements as a way of boosting the immune system? I'm taking Cold-fx, which has ginseng extract in it, and I really like it. Just curious for your thoughts.

zandperl said...

It's called the "hygeine hypothesis," and here's a summary article from CNN, and a more technical article on the CDC webpage.

I'm not sure about "natural supplements." Most of these have not been scientifically proven to help boost the immune system - there have even been doubts about Vitamin C doing so. My opinion (not based upon any science) is that they usually can't really hurt, so even if they don't help you might as well. I personally don't take any supplements (not even vitamins) b/c I can't remember, and it just feels "unnatural," and I'm healthy enough as is.

utenzi said...

That's a funny post, ZP. I bet a lot of people assume you're serious.