For Immediate Release
Contact: Nancy Webber, 518.782.9400, ext. 223
ALBANY, NY – Sept. 4, 2009 – As New York State and the nation gear up for an outbreak of H1N1 influenza, the New York State Nurses Association today called upon healthcare facilities to provide the equipment and education necessary to prevent nurses and other healthcare workers from becoming infected.
The association posted an open letter on its website (www.nysna.org) one day after the Institute of Medicine issued its report, “Respiratory Protection for Healthcare Workers in the Workplace Against Novel H1N1 Influenza A.” Prepared at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the report specifies that fit-tested, N-95 respirators are essential for providers who are in close contact with patients who have or are suspected of having H1N1 flu.
“When flu virus becomes aerosolized, such as when a patient coughs or sneezes, it can be inhaled by anyone nearby,” said Tina Gerardi, RN, chief executive office of the Nurses Association. “Ordinary surgical masks do not prevent this mode of transmission.”
The New York State Department of Health (DOH) has issued guidelines to healthcare facilities suggesting that surgical masks are sufficient protection for workers who are not performing “high-risk” procedures. The IOM report indicates, however, that surgical masks are not effective when providers are in close contact with flu patients, regardless of the tasks they are performing.
N-95 respirators effectively block nearly all particles carrying the flu virus. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that employees be fit-tested to ensure a tight seal around the face and that they be trained in using the respirators. The Nurses Association found that, during the first H1N1 outbreak last spring, many facilities did not have enough N-95 respirators and had not fit-tested their workers.
“We are urging the DOH to update its guidelines to conform to both this new report and recommendations by the CDC,” Gerardi said. “As an H1N1 vaccine will probably not be available until November, it is essential that healthcare facilities immediately take action to adequately protect the professionals who will be on the front lines, caring for influenza patients.”
A summary of the IOM report is available online.
The New York State Nurses Association is the voice for nursing in the Empire State. With more than 37,000 members, it is the state's largest union and professional association for registered nurses. It supports nurses and nursing practice through education, research, legislative advocacy, and collective bargaining.