PPE is a term that has been on the news and online for the last several months since the beginning of the year. This term stands for ‘personal protective equipment’, and it’s been the center of attention during the majority of the pandemic. At the beginning of this emergency, the fear made people start to buy many of these items in wholesale or bulk, but now they’re difficult to find for sale even in online stores.
Healthcare providers struggle to get enough of them to work safely, which has been affecting them the last few months in which shortages have been reported. In this article, we’ll explain what PPE is, and what are the most effective PPE items in the medical field during the coronavirus pandemic.
This acronym stands for ‘’personal protective equipment’. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one of the United States’ institution in charge of occupational health, they’re equipment that acts as a way to minimize the exposure to hazards that can result in injuries or illnesses in the workplace. The hazards that can cause these injuries or illnesses will vary widely from job to job.
For example, radiology technicians are in constant exposure to radiation, which is why they need protection against this hazard. People working in the electrical field will need a different type of PPE that will protect them against electrical hazards. Other common hazards that can be found in workplaces include chemical, physical, biological, and mechanical hazards, among others.
OSHA explains that all the personal protective equipment has to be designed and constructed safely, maintained cleanly and reliably. They should also fit comfortably to encourage workers to use them, and if it doesn’t fit properly, it can make a very big difference between being dangerously exposed or being safely protected.
PPE in a medical context is defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a barrier between the worker’s mouth, nose, eyes, or skin, and any type of infection be it viral or bacterial. PPE used in healthcare settings, including those used in medical, surgical, or dental procedures, is regulated by the FDA.
PPE in the medical field, depending on the situation and procedure in which it’s used, can be as varied as PPE is from job to job. The risks and hazards vary from one situation to the other. The risks that come from treating a coronavirus patient is different than the ones that come when treating a diphtheria patient.
Some of the most common PPE items used in the medical field during the coronavirus pandemic include:
These are items used to prevent the healthcare worker from being in contact with either liquids or solid material that can be infected or carrying a pathogen, protecting them from illnesses or infections. This protection works both ways since gowns also prevent the worker from transferring pathogens or infected material to particularly vulnerable patients like immunocompromised ones, or during a surgery, or a medical or dental procedure, where the wound needs to be kept clean. In healthcare centers, they’re part of the strategy used to control infections. There are other terms used to refer to them, like isolation gowns, operating room gowns, surgical or nonsurgical gowns, or procedural gowns, depending on the procedure they’re used in.
Goggles or face shields
Eyewear, in the form of goggles or face shields, is often used to protect especially the eyes from potential contact with fluids that can be infected. Goggles are a reliable source of eye protection from sprays, droplets, or splashes of respiratory and other types of fluids. Some are designed to fit tightly every person or to reduce the fogging that may be produced. Prescription glasses can be worn with some of them, but goggles are most effective when they fit tightly around the corners of the eyes.
Face shields are another item for eye protection and can represent an alternative to goggles for control of infections. They protect the whole face, unlike goggles, but they’re not recommended to be used as substitutes for face masks on their own for prevention of COVID-19.
Surgical or medical masks
These masks are also known as ‘regular face masks’ or medical masks and are a loose-fitting type of disposable face mask that acts primarily as a physical barrier between the wearer’s mouth and nose and any type of fluid in the form of droplets, sprays, splashes, or splatter. This physical barrier works in both ways, preventing the healthcare professional from releasing their fluids into the environment, which is helpful in certain situations. For example, during certain surgical or medical procedures where the wounds or the field need to be sterile, or when treating immunocompromised patients. Aside from working as a barrier, they can also filter out only large particles, unlike N95 masks.
N95 masks and other respirators
Respirators are part of the PPE in many fields, not only the medical one. They’re masks that contain a filter material meant to trap harmful particles known as respiratory hazards. These particles can be detrimental to the person’s health when inhaled, and by filtering them out, they won’t enter the worker’s airways.
N95 masks have been considered to be the best face masks for virus protection since they offer antiviral properties that are higher than those found in other types of face masks. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the institution that regulates respirators in the USA, these are respirators that filter out 95% of the non-oil based airborne particles in the air. This makes them effective for protection against coal smoke, dust, and bioaerosols that include the flu virus, the tuberculosis bacteria, or the new novel coronavirus. Some of the most popular N95 mask models include 3M N95 masks in the 3M 8210 or the 3M 8511 models, which are widely used in many work fields.
Other respirators, like the KN95 masks that are regulated under Chinese standards, or the FFP2 respirators regulated under European standards, have been considered equivalents to N95 respirators.
All the items mentioned in this article have been scarce form most of the year, and need to be reserved to be used by healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. For the general public, reusable cloth masks are recommended, and a smaller size has to be used by kids.