Healthcare personnel exposure in an emergency department during influenza season

PLoS One. 2018 Aug 31;13(8):e0203223. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0203223. eCollection 2018.


Introduction: Healthcare personnel are at high risk for exposure to influenza by direct and indirect contact, droplets and aerosols, and by aerosol generating procedures. Information on air and surface influenza contamination is needed to assist in developing guidance for proper prevention and control strategies. To understand the vulnerabilities of healthcare personnel, we measured influenza in the breathing zone of healthcare personnel, in air and on surfaces within a healthcare setting, and on filtering facepiece respirators worn by healthcare personnel when conducting patient care.

Methods: Thirty participants were recruited from an adult emergency department during the 2015 influenza season. Participants wore personal bioaerosol samplers for six hours of their work shift, submitted used filtering facepiece respirators and medical masks and completed questionnaires to assess frequency and types of interactions with potentially infected patients. Room air samples were collected using bioaerosol samplers, and surface swabs were collected from high-contact surfaces within the adult emergency department. Personal and room bioaerosol samples, surface swabs, and filtering facepiece respirators were analyzed for influenza A by polymerase chain reaction.

Results: Influenza was identified in 42% (53/125) of personal bioaerosol samples, 43% (28/ 96) of room bioaerosol samples, 76% (23/30) of pooled surface samples, and 25% (3/12) of the filtering facepiece respirators analyzed. Influenza copy numbers were greater in personal bioaerosol samples (17 to 631 copies) compared to room bioaerosol samples (16 to 323 copies). Regression analysis suggested that the amount of influenza in personal samples was approximately 2.3 times the amount in room samples (Wald χ2 = 16.21, p<0.001).

Conclusions: Healthcare personnel may encounter increased concentrations of influenza virus when in close proximity to patients. Occupations that require contact with patients are at an increased risk for influenza exposure, which may occur throughout the influenza season. Filtering facepiece respirators may become contaminated with influenza when used during patient care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Microbiology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Influenza A virus
  • Influenza, Human* / transmission
  • Masks / virology
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Respiratory Protective Devices / virology