Report Spotlights Issues in Respiratory Protection for Health Professionals

In the report, the National Academies study committee said addressing the respiratory needs of health care workers across their wide range of settings and jobs is an ethical imperative, adding that it will require the design of innovative reusable respirators and implementation of robust respiratory protection programs.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicin is focused on respiratory protection --specifically, half-facepiece reusable elastomeric respirators -- for protecting health care workers against airborne transmissible contaminants or infectious agents — for example, influenza virus — during day-to-day work or with a sudden or rapid influx of patients, such as during a public health emergency. The report finds these respirators are an effective and viable option for protecting health care workers, and it also spotlights a number of implementation challenges that must be addressed: storage, disinfection, and maintenance; training and education; user comfort and tolerability; and supply logistics and emergency stockpiling.

Reusable respirators are routinely used in many industries, and their durability and reusability make them desirable for stockpiling in case of emergencies. They aren't widely in health care, however -- only two U.S. health institutions were identified by the study committee as using reusable elastomeric respirators either exclusively or primarily. Most health facilities use filtering facepiece respirators (N95s), which are disposable after one use or in between seeing patients.

In the report, the committee said addressing the respiratory needs of health care workers across their wide range of settings and jobs is an ethical imperative, adding that it will require the design of innovative reusable respirators and implementation of robust respiratory protection programs.

It says urgent action is needed to resolve gaps in knowledge and leadership on transmissibility of airborne contaminants or infectious agents. The committee developed a set of recommendations for NIOSH, the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, professional associations, and accrediting organizations, seeking to encourage research; enable effective respiratory protection programs, training, and education; and ensure rapid and seamless implementation. The study was sponsored by CDC. For more information, visit nationalacademies.org.

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