IOM studying protective garb for health workers

Mar 1, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – A special committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is studying questions about the role of equipment such as masks, gowns, and gloves in protecting healthcare workers during an influenza pandemic and is expected to release a report in September.

The 12-member committee met in Washington, DC, Feb 22 to hear from medical experts, manufacturers, government agencies, and other groups with a stake in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The panel "is looking for ideas to understand and improve the effectiveness of PPE" in a flu pandemic and also examining behavioral factors that affect health workers' use of such equipment, said Debra Berg, MD, director of the Bioterrorism Hospital Preparedness Program at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who attended the Washington meeting.

The committee is looking at factors that affect workers' willingness to wear PPE, how well they can breathe and communicate through masks and respirators, and how long they can wear them at a time, among other issues, Berg told CIDRAP News.

At the meeting, the group also examined "what was needed to further develop face masks and respirators in terms of materials and equipment and wearability for healthcare workers to maintain their own safety during pandemic flu," she added.

Another topic was the usefulness and wearability of reusable masks, called elastomeric masks, Berg said. The aim of the meeting was to gather information, not try to build consensus on particular issues.

On the complex question of respiratory protection, "People were saying we need more ways to rank or judge different masks or respirators," said Cathy Liverman, a senior program officer at the IOM in Washington.

The meeting's formal agenda included panel discussions on the risks to health workers, designing and engineering PPE, individual and institutional issues in the use of PPE, and certification and regulation of PPE. PowerPoint presentations from the meeting are available on the IOM Web site (see link below).

The 12-member committee is planning to issue a report in September, said Liverman. The report will make recommendations on research directions, government agency roles, and perhaps policy changes, but will not include recommendations about actual PPE use during a pandemic, she said.

Liverman said the committee, called the IOM Committee on Personal Protective Equipment for Healthcare Workers during an Influenza Pandemic, is a spinoff of the IOM's standing committee on PPE. The group's next meeting is scheduled for May.

See also:

Agenda of Feb 22 IOM committee meeting

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