Swine Flu Boosts Facemask Business

Prestige Ameritech cashes in on facemask demand

By Lindsay Wilcox
|  Friday, Oct 2, 2009  |  Updated 6:15 PM CDT
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Flu Outbreak Leads to Business Boom

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You'll have to take off the surgical mask to get the first vaccine against swine flu -- it will come in the form of a nasal spray.

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Flu Outbreak Leads to Business Boom

A Richland Hills company is working overtime to get face masks out to the masses.
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North Texas-based company said it is seeing a boom in business as H1N1, or swine flu, fears increase. 

Prestige Ameritech, based in Richland Hills, is the largest U.S manufacturer of surgical grade facemasks designed to prevent the transmission of bodily fluids and bacteria.

Dan Reese, the company's president, said when news of the swine flu broke last May business went from good to great.

"It was bizarre.  We were getting grandmothers calling from nursing homes that were in a panic and people trying to get in our back door in the middle of the night," he said. "The company has grown from just under 100 employees to more than 160, and they expect to hit 200 by the end of the year."

The company purchases all of its raw materials in America, but because of the new demand, many manufacturers simply can't keep up. So the company is now in the business of manufacturing some of those materials in-house.

On Friday, the company brought knitting machines on line to make a critical piece of elastic for its products.  The machines will be instrumental in meeting a demand that Reese said far exceeds what he's seen in the past with things like the Avian Flu and the SARS outbreak.

"It's a little different this time, because this hit America in America, and the majority of the people are going to be impacted in this, one way or the other," Reese said. 

Reese said America's stockpile of facemasks is grossly insufficient, and 90% of the masks are imported from other countries.  He said that could be problematic if there was a deadly outbreak.

"If this had been a deadly, deadly strain, these other countries are not going to ship you a product," he said. "And we're it. And we're not big enough to save the United States. We can't do it by ourselves."

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