Questions and Answers – Avian Influenza

Sep 2005

With the continued risk of Avian Influenza (also known as Bird Flu or H5N1), Kays Medical have put together a selection of questions and answers. Hopefully, this will provide you with background information and ideas on how you and your company can prepare for a pandemic flu.

What is a pandemic flu?

Pandemic flu is a form of influenza; it is much more severe than ordinary flu but carries similar characteristics and symptoms. Pandemic flu can spread rapidly throughout the world and can occur at any time.

In the twentieth century, there were three pandemic outbreaks, all with catastrophic results. The most devastating happened between 1918 and 1919. The Spanish Flu, as it was called, killed an estimated 20-40 million people globally (250,000 in the UK). In 1957 the Asian Flu, lasted a year and took an estimated one million lives globally (33,000 in the UK). The most recent pandemic occurred between 1968 and 1969, the Hong Kong Flu, killed an estimated 1-4 million people worldwide (30,000 in England and Wales).

Scientists predict a pandemic is likely to occur, possibly soon, although they cannot predict when it may happen. World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Lee Jong Wook believes it is inevitable: “There is a storm brewing that will test us all. We must anticipate it and prepare to the very best of our combined ability.”

The two most recent outbreaks, Asian Flu and Hong Kong Flu, originated when avian flu viruses combined with a human flu virus. Pandemics develop due to strains of a virus mutating over time and so it is certainly possible H5N1 could become a pandemic if it adapts, making it possible to pass from human to human. It is estimated that due to globalisation the virus could spread throughout the world in a matter of months. Unfortunately, with it becoming a completely new virus, it is impossible to create a vaccine until the outbreak has started.

What are the symptoms of Avian Flu?

At the moment, every person that has contracted the disease has been in close contact with infected birds. If you are displaying symptoms of Avian Influenza, the likelihood of it being this is still incredibly small. The symptoms can depend on which virus caused the infection. Here is a list of common symptoms displayed by the people who have contracted the illness:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches & headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Fever
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory distress or failure
  • Chest pains

How can a company prepare for a pandemic?

General hygiene is incredibly important in the workplace and so educating workers about the potential problems of a pandemic occurring should ensure a safer and cleaner environment. It is likely the virus could remain potent on a host for a substantial period of time. Estimates suggest it could last on a hard surface for 24 hours, soft surface for 15 minutes and on the skin for 5 minutes.

Regular washing of hands and surfaces will reduce the transmission of potential harmful micro-molecules.

Kays Medical has produced a Pandemic Kit that is specifically designed in preparation for the potential problems that may arise from Avian Flu. This kit contains gloves, disinfectant wipes, waterproof plasters, biohazard bags and Triosyn® (iodine impregnated) face masks.

Are employers legally obliged to protect staff from pandemic flu?

Due to health and safety requirements, employers are obliged to take measures in order to protect their employees from coming into contact with infectious micro-organisms such as influenza during the course of their work.

As stated by COSHH: “Where it is not reasonably practicable to prevent exposure to a substance hazardous to health, the employer shall comply with his duty of control under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, by applying protection measures appropriate to the activity and consistent with the risk assessment, including…where adequate control of exposure cannot be achieved by other means, the provision of suitable personal protective equipment.”

Would surgical masks help as protection from Avian Flu?

Surgical facemasks are not suitable for use as protection against Avian Influenza (H5N1). The primary reason for a surgical facemask is to protect the patient from any potentially harmful, biological particle being expelled by the wearer. The major problem with using a surgical facemask in the event of a pandemic is the loose fit around the face. The filtration of these masks is relatively good, however with the slackness of the product, they are very susceptible to air leakage and thus would be rendered useless against Avian Flu.

Only respirators in compliance with EC Directive 89/686 (e.g. FFP2 or FFP3) are recommended as suitable for respiratory protection against airborne particles. As surgical masks do not comply with this legislation, they cannot be used to protect against the risk of exposure to micro-organisms, such as the H5N1.

What are FFP2 and FFP3 face masks, and how can they help?

The FFP2 face masks (European equivalent of N95 Mask) available from Kays Medical are shaped to fit around the mouth and nose with an elasticised strap that goes around the head to pull the mask in, producing a tighter and more accurate fit. The mask also has a light aluminium strip across the top. This can be bent around the nose to prevent further air leakage.

In accordance with the requirements of BS EN 149:2001, FFP2 masks have to have a total inward leakage of no greater than 6%.

The FFP2 mask is recommended by the World Health Organisation as a precautionary measure if no infection is indicated.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Health Protection Agency (HPA) both state that an FFP3 mask (European equivalent of the US N99 Mask) is the most suitable protection when the wearer is in contact with a person or animal with the possibility of carrying the infection.

In accordance with the requirements of BS EN 149:2001, FFP3 masks have to have a total inward leakage of no greater than 2%. This means that filtration in these masks traps 98% of particles greater than 0.3 microns.

FFP3 masks available from Kays Medical have a headband design with a strip of aluminium that can be moulded around the nose, much like the FFP2 mask, to provide a tight fit around the face and minimise the risk of air leakage.

Available from Kays Medical is a recognised brand FFP2 filtering half mask that conforms to FFP3 particle filtration and facial dimension requirements. Therefore this mask has some major benefits of an FFP3 at the price of an FFP2 mask.

A cheaper alternative is also available, an imported generic FFP2 mask which complies with British standards. Being an import, the same level of reassurance, regarding service back up and support, cannot be guaranteed as you would get from a UK manufactured brand.

It is recommended that both FFP2 and FFP3 are not reused after wear.

The size of Avian Influenza particles is approximately 0.08 to 0.12 microns; therefore, FFP2 and FFP3 masks may only offer limited protection.

FFP3 Mask

The Kays Medical Pandemic Kit contains a Triosyn mask, how is this different to FFP2 and FFP3 masks?

Triosyn T-3000™ Respirator offers the maximum level of protection available from a disposable respirator. Its filtration media has been independently proven to trap and kill over 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, spores and fungi (including Avian Influenza).

Michael Poole, a biohazard expert, explains: “When compared to existing respirators, the superior microbial filtration performance of the iodine impregnated mask provides a significantly enhanced protection against exposure to airborne pathogenic micro-organisms.”

This particular mask has been tested against the SARS virus and proved to be 99.99% effective over a four hour test cycle. The middle layer of the masks offers particulate filtration and is embedded with Triosyn® T50 powder, which traps and kills biological agents. The Triosyn® T50 powder removes over 99.99% of micro-organisms from air passing through the filtration media.

This respirator can be worn for up to eight continuous hours, providing consistent superior protection.

Triosyn T-300 Mask

Which other products will help me prepare for a pandemic outbreak?

The virus will be passed on from surfaces, meaning it is vital to take every precaution to keep hands clean.

Kays Medical has a variety of hand sanitisation products. One such product is the Purell Hygienic Hand Rub Gel. 60ml bottles are available and sold with or without a belt clip. The belt clip means the gel is conveniently to hand whenever it is needed, ideal for the Health Care industry. The product and refills come in a selection of sizes, with wall dispensers also available.

Purrell Hand Sanitizer

An alternative alcohol-based hand sanitiser available at Kays Medical is Sterillium which is effective against bacteria and fungi, including NORO virus, HIV, Herpes and MRSA.

Keeping hard surfaces clean is an essential protection method against harmful bacteria. AZO Wipes are hard surface wipes that when used, can help reduce transmission of bacteria from surface to human. This is just one of a selection of cleaning products that can be obtained from Kays Medical.

Forehead strip thermometers are ideal for monitoring certain symptoms of Avian Flu such as a fever. These are available individually or in packs of 100 from Kays Medical.

It is advisable to prepare for a pandemic outbreak. If you would like more information or to place an order, please contact Kays Medical.

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