Are You Outbreak Ready? 5 Tips to Help Your Facility Prepare for Measles and Other Outbreaks

Are you ready for the next outbreak?

Pockets of the U.S. are experiencing an outbreak of measles unlike any seen since 1992 and since the deadly virus was declared eliminated in 2000. As of July 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1,123 cases across 28 states. The highly contagious nature of the airborne virus, combined with the fact that people can be contagious up to four days before showing symptoms, means hospitals and other healthcare facilities need to be prepared should an outbreak crop up in their area.

But measles aren’t the only outbreak healthcare facilities and their staff are subjected to – there is everything from global pandemics such as H1N1 and international pathogens like Ebola to seasonal flu.

As recent events have shown, it can be difficult to predict when and exactly where an outbreak will occur, so the best way hospitals can ready themselves is by being prepared. A thorough infection prevention strategy is multifaceted, but wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is recognized as a critically important defense in helping prevent the spread of a pathogen.

Here are some considerations for healthcare facilities so they can ensure they have in place a thoughtful outbreak readiness plan based on best practices:

  1. Know your local community’s risk factors: The more informed a healthcare facility is about its surrounding community, the better it can prepare for a potential outbreak. Does your patient population or pockets of your local community have high rates of people who regularly opt-out of vaccinations for religious or other reasons? Are your communities frequently exposed to international travelers? These and other factors can impact risk, and knowing this can allow health care facilities to prepare for the possibility of a fast-spreading outbreak.
  2. Keep appropriate PPE in stock: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends stockpiling items such as soap, tissue, hand sanitizer and PPE including gloves, goggles, face shields, surgical masks and N95 respirators as a way to remain properly prepared for an unexpected outbreak scenario.

    It’s also important to recognize that different outbreaks require different PPE bundles and have different protocols, so preparing for one will not necessarily prepare you for all. The CDC provides guidelines for isolation precautions, which include following airborne precautions for dealing with measles patients. It is recommended to be prepared for 2-4 scenarios. To control costs, ask your PPE supplier if certain PPE, such as respirator masks, can work for multiple outbreak scenarios rather than carrying multiple products.

    It’s also important to calculate the appropriate amount of PPE you may need. When doing so, remember to include special populations such as health care workers who don’t typically use face masks or other PPE, as well as visitors and pediatric patients who require special sizes of PPE.

  3. Follow protocol for PPE: OSHA requires that certain PPE, such as N95 respirators, require initial fit testing to ensure the device fully protects the individual wearing it. OSHA also requires that fit testing take place annually. By building in a program and someone to oversee it on an ongoing basis, health care facilities can ensure they meet this requirement.

    Also make sure you train any staff who will be using PPE, especially if it’s a group who doesn’t typically wear it, on proper donning and doffing.

  4. Know your stock: PPE has a shelf life, so just because you stockpiled for an event that you consider to be recent, know that your stock may have since expired. It is common on inventory audits for a facility’s idea of what they have in stock to not match what is actually in stock. There is also the chance that the PPE stockpiled won’t match the protocol for an alternate scenario. To avoid this, carry a broad stockpile and check it regularly to see if you need to resupply. The CDC recommends stockpiling an 8-week supply.
  5. Ask about your vendor’s supply chain: With certain highly contagious pathogens such as measles, time is of the essence if your local community is experiencing an outbreak. Should you find yourself in this situation, having a supplier who can expedite the delivery of the necessary PPE from what can be 8-20 weeks to 8 days is critical and can ultimately protect staff and patients who will potentially be in contact with infected patients.

    By having enough of the proper PPE on hand – and a supplier who can quickly respond to a pressing need – before an infectious disease outbreak, you will not only help protect your clinical staff, but also give them the confidence needed to perform at their highest levels and prevent the further spread to patients and visitors.