Public Release:  Prevention experts urge modification to 2009 H1N1 guidance for health care workers

Infectious diseases prevention experts say current guidelines are not supported by science; could have dangerous consequences for patients and health care workers

Infectious Diseases Society of America

(Arlington, VA)--Three leading scientific organizations specializing in infectious diseases prevention issued a letter to President Obama today expressing their significant concern with current federal guidance concerning the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) by healthcare workers in treating suspected or confirmed cases of 2009 H1N1 influenza. The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) urged the administration to modify the guidance and issue an immediate moratorium on Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) enforcement of the current requirements.

Federal PPE guidance and requirements issued recently by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA include the use of fit-tested N95 respirators by healthcare workers rather than the use of standard surgical masks. According to these organizations--representing scientists, infectious disease specialists and healthcare professionals dedicated to healthcare quality, safety and infection control--this guidance does not reflect the best available scientific evidence. Their letter to the White House cited two recent studies demonstrating that the use of N95 respirators does not offer additional protection over that provided by the use of surgical masks.

Mark Rupp, MD, president of SHEA called the current requirements "deeply flawed" and expressed his concern over the "potential for considerable untoward consequences" that could result from the guidance. Among the consequences, Rupp cited significant confusion among healthcare professionals and administrators and the potential for further limiting the availability of the already scarce respirators in situations where they are truly warranted.

"During a time of a national emergency, healthcare professionals need clear, practical and evidence-based guidance from the government," said Richard Whitley MD, president of IDSA. "The current guidance is not supported by the best-available science and only serves to create skepticism toward federal public and occupational health decision-making."

"The supply of N95 respirators is rapidly being depleted in our healthcare facilities," said APIC 2009 President Christine Nutty, RN, MSN, CIC. "We are concerned that there won't be an adequate supply to protect healthcare workers when TB patients enter the healthcare system."

The organizations have provided input to federal agencies including the CDC regarding the handling of 2009 H1N1 influenza in the past and say they stand ready to continue to lend their knowledge and expertise as the pandemic advances.

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The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) was founded in 1980 to advance the application of the science of healthcare epidemiology. SHEA comprises 1,700 physicians, infection control practitioners, and other healthcare professionals who are dedicated to maintaining the utmost quality of patient care and healthcare worker safety in all healthcare settings. The Society continually strives toward better patient outcomes by applying epidemiologic principles and prevention strategies to healthcare-associated infections and a wide range of quality-of-care issues. SHEA achieves its mission through education, research, evidence-based guidance development, and public policy.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) represents more than 9,000 infectious diseases physicians and scientists devoted to patient care, education, research, and public health. Our members care for patients with serious infections, including antimicrobial resistant bacterial infections, meningitis, pneumonia, surgical infections, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and influenza.

Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) APIC's mission is to improve health and patient safety by reducing risks of infection and other adverse outcomes. The Association's more than 12,000 members direct infection prevention programs that save lives and improve the bottom line for hospitals and other healthcare facilities around the globe. APIC strives to promote a culture within healthcare where targeting zero healthcare-associated infections is fully embraced. The organization advances its mission through education, research, collaboration, practice guidance, public policy and credentialing.

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