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Face touching can cause infectious cycle

September 10, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
We keep hearing how handwashing and hand sanitizers help stop the transmission of the H1N1 virus. But one common act people do everyday, touching their face, can be all it takes to set off an infectious cycle.Fomites are tiny substances capable of carrying infectious organisms. They live on phones, keyboards and fly through the air.

"It gets on our hands and we put it in our nose or our mouth and if someone is front of us and coughs and sneezes then we will breathe it in," said infectious disease expert Dr. Jeffrey Galpin.

Dr. Galpin says these fomites are quite hardy especially if they carry the H1N1 virus.

"We know that the serious forms of flu have the ability to hook on to receptors and linings in the lung deeper down," said Dr. Galpin.

A new lab study finds swine flu can infect cells deeper in the lungs than season flu. This may explain why people infected with H1N1 are more likely to suffer more severe symptoms than those who catch the more run of the mill strains.

It's really important to keep your hands clean. The average American touches his or her hands about 18 times an hour. Experts say the road to infection is through the eyes, nose and mouth.

"The eyes have a membrane and if you rub your eyes that is how the germs get in, but that is a rare cause," said Dr. Galpin. "It is more common that you touch your nose or mouth after touching the hand who just blew their nose."

A videotape of an ABC News staff meeting revealed employees rubbing their eyes, noses and chins. After taping for half an hour, cameras caught every single person touching their face. One employee was seen touching their face 44 times.

"Just wash your hands it's an amazingly simple thing. Everything has an answer called washing your hands," said Dr. Galpin.

If there's enough H1N1 vaccine to go around, Dr. Galpin says it'll be more effective in fighting swine flu than any of the anti-viral drugs.

A new report in the Journal Science suggests an aggressive vaccination program that first vaccinated children, then ultimately reached 70 percent of the U.S. population would be required to stop the swine flu pandemic expected this fall.

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