Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Avian Flu and Respirators

Revere at Effect Measure has a long discussion about the debate going about what kind of respiratory protection will be needed to protect health care workers (as well as citizens) from the avian flu, should a pandemic break out.

The controversy is over whether plain old surgical masks are adequate, whether N-95 respirators are sufficiently protective, and if they are, whether they can be re-used, or whether better respiratory protection needs to be considered.

Labor unions representing health care workers have been quite concerned about conflicting guidance by federal agencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s main Web site for pandemic flu preparedness features the Department of Health and Human Services’ recommends using surgical masks, while the CDC's Interim Recommendations For Infection Control In Health-Care Facilities Caring For Patients With Known Or Suspected Avian Influenza, May 21, 2004, and OSHA’s Guidance For Protecting Workers Against Avian Flu recommend, at a minimum, NIOSH approved N95 filtering facepiece respirators, and that OSHA’s respirator standard (1910.134) be followed.

A number of unions petitioned OSHA in January for an emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers against pandemic flu.

Meanwhile, to complicate matters, the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the Association of Infection Control Practitioners (ACIP) are once again expected to gang up with Congressman Wicker (R-MS) to pass language in OSHA budget bills that prohibits enforcement of annual fit-testing for health care workers who wear respirators to protect themselves from tuberculosis, leaving health care workers highly vulnerable to air-borne diseases if the hospital chooses not to fit test employees to ensure a tight-fitting respirator.

PS: While you're over at Effect Measure, check out this posting about how to begin thinking constructively about what measures your workplace would need to take to deal with the pandemic flu, particularly if large number of critical functions couldn't be performed because the staff responsible is out sick for weeks, or worse.