Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Doing Squat To Protect Nurses In A Pandemic Flu Epidemic

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) and Congressman Steven LaTourette (R-OH), co-chairs of the Congressional Nursing Caucus, along with 70 other Congressional represenatives sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao "expressing serious concern about the lack of adequate planning and preparation for protecting public health workers in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak. "

Their primary concern the continued confusion over whether surgical masks are being recommended to protect nurses:
Specifically, the HHS Pandemic Influenza Plan released in November 2005 recommends that health care workers and emergency responders wear surgical masks for personal respiratory protection. However, surgical masks are not designed to protect the wearer from contaminants, but rather to prevent the wearer from spreading contaminants when sneezing or coughing. Surgical masks will not protect wearers from exposure to respirable airborne droplets that contain pandemic flu virus. In addition, surgical masks do not provide a seal against a wearer’s face to prevent leakage of contaminated air into the breathing zone as respirators do.
The bi-partisan group points out that the use of surgical masks would violate OSHA standards which require workers to receive respirators, certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and mandate that the workers be trained and fit-tested.

They also point out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Interim Recommendations for Infection Control in Health Care Facilities Caring for Patients with Known or Suspected Avian Influenza also calls for the use of a fit-tested respirator, at least as protective as a NIOSH-approved N-95 disposable respirator.
“A surgical mask is going to do squat to protect nurses and emergency responders, and it is well documented that respirators that fit are needed,” LaTourette said. “We are asking these federal leaders to follow recommendations to safeguard nurses and other health care workers.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and several other labor organizations petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last January for an emergency temporary standard to protect health care workers against pandemic flu.
"Hurricane Katrina exposed the devastation and misery that is created when our government is unprepared for and does not adequately respond to a major disaster," said AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee "This administration has proposed a pandemic flu plan that would leave health workers, first responders and all Americans woefully unprotected."

“As a Nurse, I am particularly concerned by the lack of adequate planning and preparation to address the serious threat of a pandemic flu,” said Capps. “We depend on Nurses and other health care workers to care for us when we face a critical emergency whether it is a terrorist attack like 9-11 or health threat like the avian flu. We shouldn’t fail these health care professionals and first responders by providing them with unsafe masks that don’t adequately protect them from exposure to airborne hazards.