- OSHA Healthcare Advisor - http://blogs.hcpro.com/osha -

New study evens the playing field for surgical masks and N95s

When it comes to respiratory protection against H1N1, the CDC says N95s should be used during close contact with possibly infected patients [1], a recommendation many healthcare experts have debated, but OSHA has enforced [2].

Now a new study out of Japan indicates that surgical masks provide just as much protection against H1N1.

The observational study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases [3], was conducted in Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore, and began by implementing recommendations similar to the CDC. From April 25th, when H1N1 first emerged, to June 18th fit tested N95 respirators, eye protection, gloves, and gowns were required in high‐risk areas, including the ED and isolation areas.

After local H1N1 transmission was detected on June 19, the hospital switched to surgical masks in all clinical areas, and continued using N95s in the ED and isolation areas.

By mid-July the facility had transitioned into surgical masks for all routine care, recommending N95s only for aerosol generating procedures. Having previously dealt with SARS outbreaks, the hospital already established web-based surveillance systems to monitor sick employees.

Results from that surveillance showed 33 employees had confirmed cases of H1N1, but none of these healthcare workers cared for infected patients. Five worked in the emergency departments, but did not participate in screening suspected patients. Investigations found that the majority of cases were linked to H1N1 transmission outside of the hospital.

“Although this is an observational study, nonetheless our findings show that surgical masks and N95 respirators do not appear to differ in efficacy in the prevention of the acquisition of pH1N1 by staff,” authors wrote in the conclusion of the study.