During an influenza pandemic, healthcare workers will be on the front lines delivering care to patients and preventing further spread of the disease. Protecting the more than 13 million healthcare workers in the United States from illness or from infecting their families or the patients in their care is critical to limiting morbidity and mortality and preventing progression of a pandemic. The National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a study on the personal protective equipment (PPE) (respirators, gloves, gowns, eye protection, and other equipment) needed by healthcare workers in the event of an influenza pandemic. The IOM committee determined that there is an urgent need to address the lack of preparedness regarding effective PPE for use in an influenza pandemic. Three critical areas were identified that require expeditious research and policy action: (1) Influenza transmission research should become an immediate and short-term research priority so that effective prevention and control strategies can be developed and refined. The current paucity of knowledge significantly hinders prevention efforts. (2) Employer and employee commitment to worker safety and appropriate use of PPE should be strengthened. Healthcare facilities should establish and promote a culture of safety. (3) An integrated effort is needed to understand the PPE requirements of the worker and to develop and utilize innovative materials and technologies to create the next generation of PPE capable of meeting these needs. Increasing the use of field testing in the pre-market phase and conducting thorough post-marketing evaluations are vital to producing effective equipment, as is the creation of rigorous federal regulatory and testing requirements. The committee believes that improvements can be made so that healthcare workers will have PPE that provides protection against influenza transmission based on a rigorous risk assessment with solid scientific evidence. The recommendations provided in this report are intended to serve as a framework and catalyst for a national PPE action plan that is an integral part of the overall national plan for an influenza pandemic.
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