Flu prevention campaign needs updating

3 April 2013

The NSW Department of Health's influenza public health poster campaign should be updated to reflect current best practice in flu prevention, according to a University of Sydney epidemiology expert.

Associate Professor Guy Eslick, from the University's Whiteley-Martin Research Centre, has had a letter calling for flu prevention information to be updated published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

He said NSW Health posters highlighting the practice of covering the nose and mouth with the hands when sneezing and coughing were more likely to help rather than prevent spread of the flu.

Included with the letter was an example of a poster from 2012, with a pictorial representation of a person coughing or sneezing into the hands.

"I was surprised to see similar posters on buses and trains showing coughing into hands as an acceptable method of transmission prevention," Associate Professor Eslick wrote.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States recommended the practice of coughing or sneezing into your sleeve if a tissue was not available, he said. This advice was reflected on their public education posters.

"I am sure that coughing or sneezing into the hands assists in the spread of flu, either through direct contact or by contact with fomites," he wrote.

A spokesman for the NSW Health communications office said the 2013 flu prevention campaign posters had "not been released because they had not been developed yet."

The NSW Health website offers similar advice to the CDC: "cover your face when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in a rubbish bin" and "cover your face when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in a rubbish bin; cough into your elbow if you don't have a tissue" at two different places, but this is not reflected in their posters from the 2012 prevention campaign.

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