Swine flu drives mask sales

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine – HME providers are experiencing a run on masks in the wake of the rising public fears about a swine flu outbreak.

American Medical Equipment sold $5,000 worth of masks in one day through its retail store in Houston, said Sandra Hoskins, company president.

"We got another order in yesterday at 9:15 and by 9:30 they were gone," she said. "We ordered the last stock from one of our distributors—92 boxes. She said those were the last available in the U.S."

Today there were 109 confirmed cases, with the majority in Texas, New York and California, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Web site on Thursday. One death—a toddler with a  history of respiratory problems—was reported on Tuesday in Houston.

Masks vary widely in price and clinical effectiveness. In particular demand is the N95 respirator masks which filter out microbial particles. Those retail for about $35 each. Providers say they experienced similar increases in demand in the wake other public health scares, including SARS and the bird flu.

Many distributors report stock is running low not only on masks but also hand hygiene products.

"We are placing expedited orders to bring in additional supply, but availability will be product specific," said Jerreau Beaudoin, director of communications for Medline. "At the same time, we are working diligently to uncover new sources in supply to meet this spike in demand."