Influenza Transmission and Personal Protective Respiratory Equipment

Seasonal influenza and its complications send, on average, 20,000 Canadians to hospital each year and cause 4,000 deaths. Pandemics occur when a new strain of the influenza virus appears to which humans have little or no pre-existing immunity. This strain usually spreads quickly from person to person across a wide geographical area. Despite the impossibility of predicting where and when the next pandemic might occur or how virulent the virus will be, governments and international bodies must be prepared with plans to help minimize the health, social and economic consequences of such an event. In 2007, the Public Health Agency of Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academies to assess the modes of transmission of influenza and the contribution of respirators or surgical masks in inhibiting the spread of the virus. 

The Expert Panel on Influenza and Personal Protective Respiratory Equipment concluded that the current weight of evidence shows that transmission of influenza by inhalation is more probable than by direct contact. The Panel also found that N95 respirators do protect against the inhalation of many types of particles while surgical masks worn by an infected person can also play a role in transmission prevention.
The conclusions of the Panel helped to inform debates about the value of hand hygiene in the 2009 H1N1 epidemic and will continue to be of value to governments at all levels as they develop pandemic preparedness plans.

Assessment question

How and where is influenza (both seasonal and pandemic) transmitted? Based on the conclusions of this review, what is the contribution that N95 respirators or surgical masks will make in the prevention of transmission of influenza?

Report and related publications

Expert Panel membership

The Expert Panel on Influenza and Personal Protective Respiratory Equipment convened in early 2007 and was chaired by Dr. Donald Low Microbiologist-in-Chief in the Department of Microbiology at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. For a complete list of panel members visit the Expert Panel on Influenza and Personal Protective Respiratory Equipment Membership page.

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Samantha Rae Ayoub, Communications and Publishing Director, at 613-567-5000 ext. 256 or

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