surgeryA NIOSH Science Blog post:

The prevalence of infectious diseases, such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV, SARS and avian flu, have raised the concern of hospital personnel over the possibility of acquiring such infections. Healthcare workers (HCWs) in or outside hospitals who have contact with patients, body fluids, or specimens may easily acquire infections from or transmit infections to patients, other personnel, or loved ones. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a critical component in the hierarchy of controls used to protect HCWs from infectious hazards. HCW PPE may include gowns, respirators, face masks, gloves, eye protection, face shields, and head and shoe coverings. Even though protective ensembles are worn to protect hospital workers and patients alike, if not used or disposed of correctly, this equipment may pose a considerable risk for the public health. Although laboratory studies have produced mixed results for the effectiveness of gown use, appropriate gowns are recommended to prevent or reduce HCW exposure to bloodborne pathogens. However, those using the gowns may have limited information on the performance of the gowns they wear every day.

 Protecting Healthcare Workers

Healthcare is the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, employing over 18 million workers. An estimated 17-57 employed HCWs per million die annually from occupational infections and injuries and 9-42 HCWs per million die per year exclusively from occupational infections (Sepkowitz and Eisenberg 2005). Because of this risk of exposure to infectious diseases, in 1991 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandated the use of universal precautions during treatment of all patients in order to minimize HCWs’ risks of acquiring bloodborne pathogens (Department of Labor, 1991). This rule requires over five million HCWs to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and employers to provide HCWs with the appropriate PPE such as gowns, eye protection, masks, face shields, and gloves. PPE is now a critical component of isolation precautions and is used widely in healthcare facilities as part of the strategy to minimize passage of pathogenic microbes to patients and exposure of HCWs and visitors to infectious agents, especially bloodborne pathogens.

In addition to the Bloodborne Pathogens Rule published by OSHA, organizations such as the CDC have promoted guidelines for HCW protection, recommending vaccination, early patient screening, isolation precautions, and the use of PPE.

Transmission of Microorganisms

Transmission of infectious agents in healthcare settings requires three elements: a source of infectious agents, a susceptible host with a portal of entry receptive to the agent, and a mode of transmission for the agent. Sources of infectious agents in the hospital here to read the rest of the post, which includes information on:

  • Protective Clothing in Healthcare Settings, and
  • Guidelines and Standards for Protective Clothing in Healthcare