This would be such an incredibly interesting and valuable experiment for our villages to do. We have the unique situation of genuine communities (not ad hoc ones like a dormitory), manageably small, which are separated by space but which share many cultural, human biological, and ecological similarities. That is, it would be easy to find pairs or triplets of communities which are matched in every respect except the variable to be tested– does wearing masks and/or hand sanitizers and handwashing prevent or cut down the amount of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases? How about Kongignanak and Kwigillingok? The Tundra Villages (Nunapitchuk, Amautluak, Kasigluk)? Russian Mission, St Mary’s, and Mt Village? Hooper Bay and Chevak? Mekoryak this year and Mekoryak last year? The Koyukon villages?

30 Jan 2007 Source: Reuters By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

Can wearing a face mask and regularly cleaning hands stop the spread of deadly bird flu? Students at the University of Michigan started a living experiment on Tuesday to find out.

They are using the peak of influenza season to see if simple cotton masks and little bottles of hand sanitizer will protect them.

More than 2,000 students living in University of Michigan dormitories will wear masks and use hand sanitizer to see if they develop lower rates of influenza than students not using such protections….

Students in one group will use hand sanitizer and wear simple cotton surgical masks. Another group will use only the masks and a third group will get no extra protections.

They will use the products as soon as influenza is detected and reported among students…

The researchers will simply watch and see if the groups get influenza and related illnesses at different rates. The U.S. flu season generally starts in October and lasts through March, peaking in February. […]

The New York Times article below discusses some of the other real life aspects of the study.

‘It’s kind of hard to eat with this thing on,” the University of Michigan freshman said recently from behind the blue mask. ”It’s kind of hard to do a lot of things with this on.”

But every day, Miguel, 18, wears the mask while he studies, does laundry and sprints to class. It’s gets a little uncomfortable, but it’s for a good cause, he says….

They’ll fill out surveys every week, answering questions about their physical health and how often they wear the mask, which is optional outside the residence halls. The students will wear the masks until the flu outbreak has died down, but no longer than six weeks, the researchers said.

Funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the research is the first of its kind, said Dr. Allison Aiello, a Michigan epidemiology professor who designed the study with principal investigator Dr. Arnold Monto.[…]