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The approach to any potentially hazardous atmosphere, including biological hazards, must be made with a plan that includes an assessment of hazard and exposure potential, respiratory protection needs, entry conditions, exit routes, and decontamination strategies. Any plan involving a biological hazard should be based on relevant infectious disease or biological safety recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other expert bodies including emergency first responders, law enforcement, and public health officials. The need for decontamination and for treatment of all first responders with antibiotics or other medications should be decided in consultation with local public health authorities.
This INTERIM STATEMENT is based on current understanding of the potential threats and existing recommendations issued for biological aerosols. CDC makes this judgment because:
When using respiratory protection, the type of respirator is selected on the basis of the hazard and its airborne concentration. For a biological agent, the air concentration of infectious particles will depend upon the method used to release the agent. Current data suggest that the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) which first responders currently use for entry into potentially hazardous atmospheres will provide responders with respiratory protection against biological exposures associated with a suspected act of biological terrorism.
Protective clothing, including gloves and booties, also may be required for the response to a suspected act of biological terrorism. Protective clothing may be needed to prevent skin exposures and/or contamination of other clothing. The type of protective clothing needed will depend upon the type of agent, concentration, and route of exposure.
The interim recommendations for personal protective equipment, including respiratory protection and protective clothing, are based upon the anticipated level of exposure risk associated with different response situations, as follows:
- the type(s) of airborne agent(s);
- the dissemination method;
- if dissemination via an aerosol-generating device is still occurring or it has stopped but there is no information on the duration of dissemination, or what the exposure concentration might be.
- the suspected biological aerosol is no longer being generated;
- other conditions may present a splash hazard.
- an aerosol-generating device was not used to create high airborne concentration,
- dissemination was by a letter or package that can be easily bagged.
These type of respirators reduce the user's exposure by a factor of 50 if the user has been properly fit tested.
Care should be taken when bagging letters and packages to minimize creating a puff of air that could spread pathogens. It is best to avoid large bags and to work very slowly and carefully when placing objects in bags. Disposable hooded coveralls, gloves, and foot coverings also should be used. NIOSH recommends against wearing standard firefighter turnout gear into potentially contaminated areas when responding to reports involving biological agents.
Decontamination of protective equipment and clothing is an important precaution to make sure that any particles that might have settled on the outside of protective equipment are removed before taking off gear. Decontamination sequences currently used for hazardous material emergencies should be used as appropriate for the level of protection employed. Equipment can be decontaminated using soap and water, and 0.5% hypochlorite solution (one part household bleach to 10 parts water) can be used as appropriate or if gear had any visible contamination. Note that bleach may damage some types of firefighter turnout gear (one reason why it should not be used for biological agent response actions). After taking off gear, response workers should shower using copious quantities of soap and water.