Pandemic Research Yields More Information Useful for Meeting Future Public Health Threats

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have completed a study of 3 area hospitals and their consumption rate of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the H1N1 pandemic.  Their findings were that the use of protective equipment (e.g., N95 respirators, surgical masks, goggles, etc.) more than doubled that of the previous two flu seasons.  While they were directed to maintain a 10-week supply of PPE, hospital inventories, at times, fell as low as 2 days advance supply to running out completely.  The study examined admissions of patients with flu-like illnesses, PPE uses, and staff absenteeism due to illness.

Experts agree that N95 respirators (left) provide health care workers with adequate protection during a pandemic, but dispute whether or not less expensive surgical masks (right) are also sufficient.

One important lesson of the pandemic was that it gave a clear indicator of the impact the demands for PPE would have on the health care system’s supply chain, and what a shortfall would mean to hospital operations. According to researchers, “During the pandemic, supplies of FPE (facial protective equipment) became very tight because of increased demand nationally and internationally, and lead times for ordering increased from days to several months.” Chicago Journal of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology

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