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Respiratory Protection and Avian Influenza Viruses - Frequently Asked Questions for Health Care Professionals

 Respiratory Protection and Avian Influenza Viruses

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have issued precautions that should be used with regard to avian influenza viruses.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have issued precautions that should be used with regard to avian influenza viruses. For the most current information see the following websites:

The following questions and answers are based on information provided by the CDC and WHO.

What is avian influenza or flu?
Influenza viruses that infect birds, such as the H5N1 virus, are called "avian influenza viruses." Avian influenza viruses do not usually infect humans; however, influenza viruses are constantly changing, and several instances of human infections have been reported since 1997.

What are the symptoms of avian influenza?
Symptoms of bird flu in humans have ranged from typical flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress), and other severe and life-threatening complications.

How is avian influenza transmitted?
Birds that are infected with avian influenza viruses can shed virus in saliva, nasal secretions and faeces. It is believed that most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. In such situations, people should avoid contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces, and should be careful when handling and cooking poultry. Strict hand hygiene must also be performed. Other means of transmission are possible, such as the virus becoming aerosolized and landing on exposed surfaces of the mouth, nose, eyes, or being inhaled.

Can avian influenza be transmitted from person to person?
To date the CDC and WHO have reported that although there is evidence of limited person-to-person spread of infection, sustained human-to-human transmission has not occurred.

How long can the avian influenza virus survive in the environment?
The duration that these viruses can survive in the environment depends on temperature and humidity conditions, but they may survive up to weeks in cooler and moister conditions.

What type of personal protective equipment (PPE) is recommended for health care workers who are exposed to patients with known or suspected avian influenza?
Current HPA advice for protection of Health Care Workers in the management of possible H5N1 Avian Influenza infected returning travellers is to wear a correctly fitted EN149:2001 FFP3 respirator, gown, gloves and eye protection.

3M Health Care supplies two EN149 FFP3 disposable particulate respirators:

3M™ 1863 Respirator, Unvalved
3M™ 1873V Respirator, Valved

and 3M™ Protective Eyewear

What is the difference between a valved and unvalved respirator?
Valved respirators are designed to offer enhanced wearer comfort and breathability. However, there is no difference in the filtration properties of valved and unvalved respirators.

Do 3M disposable particulate respirators contain natural rubber latex?
No, 3M EN149 FFP3 disposable particulate respirators do not contain components made from natural rubber latex.

Should avian influenza patients wear a surgical mask?
Persons suspected of having avian influenza should be separated from others and asked to wear a surgical mask. 3M Health Care supplies a range of Surgical Masks

If a surgical mask is not available, tissues should be provided and patients should be asked to cover their mouth and nose when coughing.

What is the difference between an approved respirator and a surgical mask?
Respirators are designed to help reduce the wearer's exposure to airborne particles. The primary purpose of a surgical facemask is to help prevent biological particles from being expelled by the wearer into the environment. Some surgical masks are also designed to be fluid resistant to splash and splatter of blood and other infectious materials. Surgical facemasks are not necessarily designed to seal tightly to the face and therefore air leakage around the edges is likely. However, some respirators are designed to have the characteristics of both an approved respirator and a surgical mask.

How important is respirator fit?
Fit is very important. If a respirator does not seal properly to the face, airborne hazards can penetrate or enter underneath the face piece seal and into the breathing zone. It is very important to always follow the application instructions and do a user seal-check or fit-check before entering the contaminated environment. In the UK and Ireland, respirator fit testing is a requirement, and is the responsibility of the employer providing personal protective equipment. A good fit can only be obtained if the face is clean-shaven in the area where the respirator seals against the face. Beards, long moustaches, and stubble may interfere with a good seal and cause leaks into the respirator. Many medical facemasks, not approved as respirators, do not seal tightly to the face allowing airborne hazards to enter the breathing zone. Even those medical facemasks that appear to seal tightly to the face have not been designed to protect the wearer from airborne hazards. Therefore, they should not be considered an equivalent substitute for approved respirators.

For further information, please contact our Technical Advisor on (01509) 613170. For details of where to buy 3M disposable particulate respirators and protective eyewear, please visit Where To Buy or contact our Customer Services department on (01509) 613151.

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