PANDEMIC Q&A: Do facemasks and handwashing prevent the flu?

I hate to say it, but the so-called "Swine Flu" (which actually isn't the Swine Flu, but a modification of several types of pre-existing human, avian and pig strains) is getting radically overblown.
Properly reffered to as H1N1, the risk of contracting the disease is still, despite reports, extraordinarily low. While no vaccine is currently available, experts are confident one will be developed within a few months. Should one contract the virus, most cases can be solved by simple bed rest, and in extreme cases, antiviral medications.
Still, getting the flu sucks. So prevention is key. But when it comes to prevention, what works? Here we address two of the most commonly trumpeted techniques: handwashing and facemasks.

Question: Does washing your hands kill flu germs?
Answer: No. The flu is a virus. Soap does not kill viruses. In fact, soap doesn't kill bacteria either, unless, of course, the soap is laced with antibacteiral agents, which most soaps are nowadays. Even those soaps aren't 100% foolproof, however.
Soap's primary function is as an emulsification agent, which is a fancy way of saying soap allows the not soluble ingredients of oil and grease to mix more readily with water. This mixture allows grime to flow more easily off the hands when run under water. Bottom line: While washing your hands won't kill the flu, it can prevent other bacterial infections and thus boost your overall resilience to contracting the flu virus.

Question: Do face masks help prevent flu infection?
Answer: No. Surgical masks are designed primarily to prevent the spread of germs contained in spit and sneezes from the wearer to others, not the other way around. While a well-fitting mask can undoubtedly prevent against certain infectious agents entering into the mouth and nose, face masks have a huge shortcoming -- they can't protect against smaller, airborne agents. Bottom line: Face masks aren't very effective at keeping the flu at bay. Respirators, which are made for filtering out the small air particles (and which happen to cover your face and nose as well) would be a better alternative, but let's be real here, there's only been 156 reported cases worldwide as of April 30. If you are prancing around Main Street wearing a gas mask you're taking this whole "Level 5 Pandemic" thing way too seriously, man.

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