CDC to College Students: Smooch With Surgical Masks to Curb Swine Flu

When it comes to swine flu, John Genovese of Scottsdale, Ariz., said he's not taking any chances as he settles in the dorm for his freshman year at Arizona State University.

"Swine flu is a pretty serious thing, so I'd adhere to whatever the CDC advises," Genovese, 18, said.

But even Genovese said that a new piece of advice issued Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta seems a bit strange. It's a recommendation suggesting that if college students are ill, they should refrain from kissing but, if they must, wear a surgical mask while doing the deed.

"I studied abroad in Costa Rica when swine flu broke out over there and we had to wear masks for a while," he said. "But I don't think I'd kiss with a surgical mask."

At least one of Genovese's classmates said he would, although he did add that he imagined kissing with a surgical mask wouldn't be comfortable.

"It just seems a little crazy and weird," said 18-year-old freshman Jordan Wilhelmi of Rosemont, Minn. "But I'd wear a mask if someone asked me to."

The recommendation is just one of several that federal health officials posted online in a document titled "CDC Guidance for Responses to Influenza for Institutions of Higher Education during the 2009-2010 Academic Year."

The tips are aimed at dorm-residing college students and, for the most part, they are the same well-worn guidelines that the agency has promoted in light of the swine flu pandemic, mainly involving social distancing and proper hand-washing technique.

But one of the "recommended strategies under current flu conditions" has raised eyebrows.

"If close contact with others cannot be avoided, the ill student should be asked to wear a surgical mask during the period of contact," the recommendation reads. "Examples of close contact include kissing, sharing eating or drinking utensils, or having any other contact between persons likely to result in exposure to respiratory droplets."

CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner acknowledged that the language of the recommendation was confusing and that the agency would "look at rewording" the guidance.

"We're not telling them to wear a mask when they kiss," Skinner said. "What we're trying to do is give examples of 'close contact.'"

Some infectious disease experts agreed that despite the seemingly odd piece of advice, the overall intent of the guidelines is reasonable.

Mask Advice Is Strange, Doctors Say

"I believe the intent of the writer was to avoid close contact, including the examples cited, and to wear a surgical mask if close contact cannot be prevented such as when [you're in a] in room coughing and hacking with your roommate," said Dr. Christopher Ohl, associate professor of medicine at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine's Section on Infectious Diseases, in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Obviously, kissing with a surgical mask on is a bit technically difficult. I don't think the writer was insinuating that 'If you have to kiss, put on a mask.' The verbiage could have been clearer."

But others said the guidance, regardless of intention or verbiage, is simply unrealistic.

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