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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

July 2017

Infectious disease training improves airport worker preparedness

Workers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport are now better prepared for infectious disease pathogens, thanks to innovative training.

Workers at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) are now better prepared to respond to possible infectious disease pathogens, thanks to an innovative training course on June 14 for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers and Duke Human Vaccine Institute staff.

The event was part of the NIEHS Ebola Biosafety and Infectious Disease Response Worker Training Program (WTP), which helps workers protect themselves, their worksites, and their communities during infectious disease outbreaks such as influenza, Ebola, and new biological threats.

“When we think of occupations that may be exposed to infectious disease, airport workers or law enforcement officers may not be the first that come to mind,” said Joseph “Chip” Hughes, WTP director. “Yet all of these occupations have an important role in reducing disease transmission, and they need to know how to protect themselves, so they don't get infected or spread diseases to their families or communities.”

Closing gaps in preparedness

CBP officers are especially vulnerable to infectious diseases due to routine contact with travelers from around the world. They are also called on to handle infection control issues, according to Officer Paul Krumpf, because they are among the few airport workers skilled in proper use of personal protective equipment. “It’s critical for these workers to understand the full range of infectious disease threats,” said Krumpf.

The session allowed NIEHS to pilot the Pathogen Safety Data (PSD) Guide(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/wetp/?id=2554). The institute developed the resource after conducting a training needs assessment and gap analysis(https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/wetp/?id=2542) of existing worker training for Ebola and other emerging infectious diseases. Jonathan Rosen, an industrial hygienist with the WTP National Clearinghouse, delivered the RDU training. Scott Alderman, program manager with grantee Duke Infectious Disease Response Training program (DIDRT), was the coordinator.

Prepared to handle infectious hazards

Participants said the exercise helped them better prepare to recognize and safely respond to infectious hazards on the job. David Fine, an agriculture specialist with CBP, said it met a need for specific guidance on infection control in his field. “This training presented an opportunity to think through and discuss critical concepts, while introducing us to new tools,” he said.

“Training participants were very receptive to learning new terminology, using the apps and websites, and researching pathogens of concern,” Rosen commented.

According to Fine, CBP officers receive information on infectious diseases, but these resources may fail to convey a sense of urgency and are sometimes out of date. In contrast, the session at RDU helped him feel more aware of current threats, and more prepared to find and consult resources, such as the Canadian Pathogen Safety Data Sheets (PSD) database and the National Library of Medicine WISER app.

“The class conveyed urgency, discouraging officers at the frontlines of border protection from becoming complacent,” said Fine. “Through the dialogue and resources this course provided, [disease prevention] may be one of the first things I’ll think about in the future.”

(Tara Failey is a communication specialist with MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training. Demia Wright is an NIEHS public health educator.)

Preparing workers nationwide

WTP grantees provide infectious disease response training across the country for workers in a variety of occupations, helping develop the capacity for a federal emergency response to new infectious diseases.

“This effort brings multiple sectors to the table for discussion. Previously, there have been invisible silos within infection control, occupational health, and related fields,” said Nina Jaitly, M.D., public health physician and WTP scientific program manager. “The program is finding common ground across the many biosafety partners and is creating tools that improve worker preparedness.”

Sessions have taken place across the U.S.

  • Long Island City — Laborers’ International Union of North America, for environmental services and waste handlers.
  • Indiana University-Bloomington — for Omaha-based fire department employees and paramedics.
  • Manhattan — The Steelworkers Charitable and Educational Organization and the Labor Institute, for day laborers in Manhattan.
  • Atlanta — Emory University, for first responders in emergency medical services.
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