Airborne-pathogen isolation units called for to fight bioterrorism

Federal researchers announced on July 14 their ongoing efforts to protect health care workers from a bioterrorist attack or epidemic in the wake of unique failures seen during the H1N1 pandemic.

Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati expressed their concerns and gave updates at a panel discussion at the International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases, CIRDRAP News reports.

Key among these issues was a concern that the United States needs a larger surge capacity of airborne-pathogen isolation units, such as negative pressure rooms, CIDRAP News reports.

Kenneth Read, a senior engineer at NIOSH, reported to the Center for Infectious Disease and Policy that the rooms, which can cost up to $40,000, are lacking from most hospitals, according to CIDRAP News. Nevada, he revealed, has 307 airborne isolation beds and a population of 2.5 million, with 4 million tourists visiting each month.

Read noted that protecting health care workers would be critical in a public health crisis, such as a bioterrorism attack. A New York study demonstrated that during the SARS panic, only 24 percent of health care workers felt it was safe enough to go to work.

There are ways to surge isolation units in a emergencies, according to Read’s doctoral dissertation on the subject. One involves replacing the fabric curtains that usually surround a patient’s bed with plastic barriers and then placing a HEPA filter and ventilated headboard in the new space.