Now that flu season is officially here, we may feel heightened concern about the cause of our coworker’s, friend’s, or elevator mate’s cough. For healthcare workers, this seasonal concern is of year-round importance.

To protect healthcare workers from exposure to airborne germs and other particulate health hazards, investigators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examined the use of respiratory protective devices within hospitals. It is critical to understand the types of respiratory protection healthcare workers use, so that workers receive appropriate training for their device. In addition, this information enables stockpiling of the most widely used devices for public health emergencies, such as the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

To find out if the type of respiratory protection among healthcare workers has changed since the Ebola epidemic, the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses (AAOHN) sent an online questionnaire to several professional nursing society members. From the 554 responses to the survey, the NIOSH-certified N95 filtering facepiece respirator (N95) continued to rank as the most popular type of respirator, as reported in the journal Workplace Health & Safety. When properly fitted, the N95 effectively blocks small, potentially hazardous, airborne particles to form a tight seal over the nose and mouth. Although the N95 remained the most widely used respiratory protective device nationwide, the survey also found that some respondents, especially in the West and Midwest areas of the United States, increasingly use powered air-purifying respirators. Since these types of respirators use a breathing tube, battery-operated blower, and a facepiece filter, they require quite different training than that of the N95. The investigators noted that these findings underscore the importance of matching end-user education with the actual type of device used, as well as informing decision making for emergency stockpile procurement.

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