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An Introduction to Personal Protective Equipment

An Introduction to Personal Protective Equipment

The Need for PPE Is Expected to Grow

The market for personal protective equipment (PPE) was already expected to grow strongly by 2027 even before coronavirus hit, thanks to demand from emerging market healthcare systems. But because of COVID-19, the peak has come much earlier than predicted.

Data from consulting firm Frost & Sullivan shows that demand for practically all forms of PPE is increasing rapidly. Purchasing of face masks is up 65 percent, disposable gloves are up 50 percent, clothing is up 100 percent, and goggles are up 150 percent. And next year, the growth is set to continue. 

What is PPE?

PPE - or personal protective equipment - is apparel designed to prevent the spread of infection between people. Before the coronavirus, the term was not a part of everyday language. But thanks to the current pandemic, it has entered the lexicon and become a regular part of speech.

PPE is vital in situations where no drugs or vaccinations exist to control the spread of infection. It is the best way to prevent pathogens from hopping from one person to another, hence why it is in such high demand today.

PPE is two-way: it should protect you from patients with the disease and vice versa. You can think of it as an extreme form of social distancing for situations where staying two meters apart is impossible. Often medical staff needs to be in close contact with patients for prolonged periods to administer treatment. Effective PPE creates a barrier between the two, protecting both parties.

How to Use PPE Properly

PPE is only effective if you use it properly. That means putting it on and taking it off according to accepted protocols.

Certain activities require a higher degree of PPE than others. For instance, medical professionals inserting tubes into coronavirus patients’ airways (intubation) often require a greater degree of protection than members of the public passing each other in the street. The number of virus particles traveling through the air is much higher in the former situation than the latter. Anyone entering a room treating active COVID-19 patients need considerable protection because of the higher density of virus particles.

Here is the process you should follow to use PPE correctly, according to CDC guidelines:

  • Identify the correct PPE for your situation: Usually, you’ll require a specific type of disposable gown or coverall, depending on your training.
  • Wash your hands: Always wash your hands before touching any PPE equipment to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Put on an N95 NIOSH-approved respirator: N95 respirators are different from regular face masks because they usually come with a separate nose piece. They do not require bending or tenting. Ensure that the respirator fully covers both the nose and the chin, entirely protecting the airways. If you're using a respirator, be sure to place the top straps around the crown of the head and the bottom strap around the base of the neck. For facemasks, the procedure is the same, unless the mask uses ear hooks.
  • Put on face goggles: Once your N95 respirator or mask is secure, put on your face shield or goggles. Double-check that your eye protection does not interfere with the placement of your facemask. Whether you use a facemask or shield is often a matter of policy or personal preference. Face shields are less prone to fogging.
  • Don your gloves: If you wear gloves, ensure that they cover the cuff of your gown.

There is also a set order in which you should remove PPE equipment. Below is the sequence you should follow in the medical setting:

  • Remove your gloves: Remove your gloves in such a way that avoids your hand coming into contact with the outer surface, which could potentially be contaminated.
  • Remove your gown:
    • If you are in a medical setting, remove your gown.
    • Untie all ties gently, avoiding any jerking movements that could throw viral particles into the air.
    • Start at the top of the body and roll the gown downwards, away from the face. When removed, place in a designated receptacle for safe disposal.
  • Wash your hands: Leave the high-risk space and wash your hands to destroy any lingering viral particles.
  • Discard your respirator: Do not touch the front of it, as this can harbor viral particles.
  • Wash your hands again: Wash your hands for a second time to eliminate any stray viruses that may have transferred to your skin during the doffing process.

Types Of Personal Protective Equipment

Here, we briefly discuss some of the types of personal protective equipment that medical practitioners, clinicians, and members of the general public might use.

Disposable Caps

Disposal caps are pieces of headwear that prevent pathogenic particles from passing from the hair to the patient, and vice versa. Traditionally, surgeons used them to stop shedding hairs from transmitting infection, but they are useful today for COVID-19 control.

N95 Masks

N95 masks and respirators are face wear items that fulfill the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) N95 criteria. Masks in this category must be able to filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles. KN95 masks provide essentially the same protection as the N95 masks, but differ in some features.

Disposable Gowns

Disposable gowns are personal protective equipment that healthcare professionals wear during surgery or when the risk of infectious disease transmission is high. It protects the patient and healthcare professional from the exchange of particulate matter and bodily fluids,

Disposable Coveralls

Disposable coveralls are items of PPE that cover the entire body instead of just small sections of it. In many situations, they are more convenient than donning separate items of PPE.

Disposable Gloves

Disposable gloves provide additional protection to the hands. Usually, they are made of a flexible nitrile material that is impervious to viral particles. Nitrile gloves are popular because they are both sturdy and comfortable, and won't provoke and allergic reaction as latex does in some glove wearers.

Knee-High Boot and Shoe Covers

Knee-high boot and shoe converse are light and dust-proof covers that protect the body's lower extremities against contamination.

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