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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

New respirators: Protection from airborne infections but health care workers breathe easier

The Holy Grail of occupational health care is a respirator that fits snugly but comfortably, can be cleaned and reused if necessary, and provides the highest possible protection from airborne pathogens. It doesn’t exist – yet.

That may be an elusive goal, but two manufacturers say they have made progress toward a prototype of a better N95.

One innovation: New respirators may be made of different materials.

“Higher performance filter media will help allow us to reduce respirator thickness, weight and pressure drop, increase comfort and service life, and expand our design options,” Lauri Alvarez, senior technical service engineer at 3M in St. Paul, MN, said at a meeting sponsored by the National Personal Protective Technology Lab (NPPTL) of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Scott Safety of Monroe, NC, has experimented with design changes that make it easier for health care workers to remove a respirator without contaminating their hands and would enable respirators to be reused.

The Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta also is experimenting with a form-fitting device that would not need to be fit-tested.

The new respirator design emerged from Project BREATHE (Better Respiratory Equipment using Advanced Technologies for Healthcare Employees), which was initiated by the Veterans Health Administration.

A better respirator for health care will need to be accompanied by an awareness and education campaign to encourage the proper use, said Ron Shaffer, PhD, senior scientist with NPPTL.

“Even if we build the best respirator ever, if it’s not used it’s still not going to help the worker in reducing their exposure,” he said.

-- Michele Marill