Washington: Masks and hand washing can practically slash the spread of flu-like symptoms, new reseach has demonstrated.

The study found up to a 75 percent reduction in flu-like illness over the study period with hand hygiene and surgical masks, said Allison Aiello, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

The results from both years of study found no significant reduction in symptoms in mask use alone, which suggests masks and hand hygiene should be used together, Aiello said, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.

At the beginning of a pandemic, vaccines probably won't be available immediately so one of the first lines of defence to stop the spread of illness will be non-drug interventions like hand hygiene and face masks, according to a Michigan statement.

"This means masks and hand hygiene may be a good measure for preventing transmissions in crowded living quarters," said Aiello.

The study was the first of its kind and received international exposure. The researchers recruited more than 1,000 students in the University's residence halls.

The students were assigned to groups who wore masks, wore masks and practiced hand hygiene, or did neither. They were monitored for the presence of flu symptoms or the flu.

Aiello and Arnold Monto, professor of epidemiology, are co-principal investigators of the study.

(Agencies)