In 2009, the H1N1 influenza pandemic brought to the forefront the many unknowns about the virulence, spread, and nature of the virus, as well as questions regarding personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare personnel. Researchers still have much to learn about how influenza is transmitted from person to person, and one major question that arose during the H1N1 influenza pandemic was determining what types of PPE—particularly face masks or respirators—are needed to protect healthcare personnel from disease transmission. Because the focus of research efforts often shifts to other health concerns between pandemics, continuing the research momentum is critical to ensure that the nation is prepared for the next influenza pandemic.
In light of the unanswered research questions following the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) asked the IOM to assess the progress of PPE research and to identify future directions for PPE for healthcare personnel. While the IOM finds that there are gaps and deficiencies in the research about PPE use in health care, there is sufficient knowledge to recommend a four-pronged strategy for effective PPE use:
- Deliberate planning and preparation at the leadership and organizational levels
- Comprehensive training for all personnel, including supervisors and managers
- Widespread and convenient availability of appropriate PPE devices
- Accountability at all levels of the organization
The IOM also offers several recommendations for continuing the momentum of PPE research that are detailed in the report and the report brief. The more scientists and researchers know about how to maximize the effectiveness of PPE and its use, the more prepared we will be for the next influenza pandemic.