A study to be published in the January 2009 Journal of Hospital Infection, (Phin NF, Rylands AJ, Allan J, et al. Personal protective equipment in an influenza pandemic: a UK simulation exercise. J Hosp Infect 2008;71(1): 15-21) holds some surprising findings with major implications for Fire and EMS departments. The authors staged a 24 hour pandemic PPE drill in a 29-bed inpatient medical ward at a U.K. hospital. During the drill, health care workers (HCWs) used 13 times more gloves and 10 times more surgical masks than normal. They also used considerably less high level PPE than expected (gowns, respirator masks, and goggles). The authors note that WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations for stockpiling pandemic PPE seem to overshoot on high level supplies and underestimate low level needs. Waste generated from PPE used in patient care increased 3 to 4 fold. Workers complained that wearing PPE was uncomfortable (hmmm, sounds like the problem we have with SCBA...), and patient care procedures took considerably longer than normal. Traffic through the ward was excessive and ultimately, demonstrated that merely plugging additional PPE into the health care delivery model would simply not work during an actual pandemic.
Probably the most fascinating conclusion from the authors is that none of us will fully appreciate costs, preparedness levels, supply needs, or implications for service delivery until we actually conduct a real time simulation like this one in the U.K.
Fascinating. One added consideration regarding PPE: read some labels. You'll probably discover that your gloves, masks, and other disposables are made in China or somewhere else overseas. If you think you'll be able to bulk order these items during a pandemic, think again. It's fairly likely that's where a pandemic will begin...
You can view the full article by clicking this link to the journal.