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

"It falls into that category of, 'It's the right advice, but impractical and hence not going to be followed,'" said Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "I think telling two college students in love not to kiss is neither practical nor informed about human behavior -- don't tell my grad student daughter I said the latter -- and therefore less helpful than explaining the virus is transmitted by the respiratory route: sneezing, coughing, oral contact, etc."

Dr. Pascal Imperato, dean of the SUNY Downstate Medical Center School of Public Health in Brooklyn, N.Y., was less charitable.

"Implying that kissing through a mask is fine probably refers to kissing on the cheek, not the sort of kissing college students usually have in mind when they think of kissing," Imperato said, adding that in his view, even a kiss on the cheek through a mask would not be wise.

"I suspect that whoever drafted the wording for this recommendation may never have kissed while in college, nor anywhere else for that matter," he said. "They really need to revise this statement."

Meanwhile, Philip Alcabes, author of "Dread: How Fear And Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics From The Black Death To Avian Flu" and associate professor of Urban Public Health at Hunter College of The City University of New York, said that the recommendations will likely do little to curb the spread of the flu -- and much more to spread fear.

"Of course, it isn't crazy to tell people that kissing could spread flu virus," he said. "But [Thursday's] CDC guidance -- with masked kissing, flu buddy schemes, and shirt-sleeve sneezing -- is further evidence that panic has set in among officials.

"Probably, our officials are well meaning and concerned with the public's health. But it often seems like their overriding concern isn't real programs to stop disease, it's that they'll be criticized for doing too little. And since there's nothing to be done right now, they just say something. Anything. 'Masks.'"

Can Masks Cut the Spread of Swine Flu on Campus?

It's not just the kissing guidelines that may pose a problem, SUNY's Imperato said. Specifically, sharing of utensils is something that should never be done with an ill friend -- regardless of whether they happen to be wearing a mask or not.

"What is additionally odd is that it implies that such students can share eating and drinking utensils with well contacts, provided that they, the ones ill with the flu, wear a mask," Imperato said. "The bottom line here is that students ill with the flu should not be kissing other people nor sharing eating and drinking utensils with them."

"I guess a mask is better than duct tape," noted Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona whose work on microbes has earned him the nickname "Dr. Germ."

"Some barrier is better than [none] at all, but I would just avoid kissing altogether and sharing utensils, or at least wash them," he said. "I was trying to figure out how you drink or eat with a face mask on. I think they must mean if you are in a room where someone is eating or drinking."

Eating and drinking aside, at least one student -- a nursing major no less -- appeared to agree wholeheartedly with Gerba's advice.

"I'm a bit germaphobic in general, so I'd definitely wear a surgical mask, but not for kissing." said Anna Salinas, 19, from Goodyear, Ariz. "It's better to wait until you're better."

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