Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is used every day by healthcare personnel in order to protect themselves and their patients. Healthcare workers are currently on the frontline treating COVID-19 patients. They are at great risk for contracting COVID-19 themselves, so proper PPE use is essential to protect them against the many hazards of their job. There are three factors to consider when selecting (PPE) in a healthcare setting. First, the type of exposure anticipated determines the PPE selection. This includes touch, splashes or sprays, large volumes of blood, or body fluids that one might come in contact with. Second, the durability and appropriateness of the PPE must be determined for the task. For example, if one is drawing blood from a vein, gloves would be necessary, but irrigating a wound would require a pair of gloves, a gown, and a mask. Lastly, selecting the appropriate size of PPE equipment is imperative to ensure proper safety for both the medical personnel and the patient.
The following are 6 types of common PPE used in healthcare settings. They are listed in the order in which they should be put on.
- Isolation Gowns & Aprons
Isolation gowns are the preferred PPE for clothing, but aprons can be used when there is limited contamination anticipated. Gowns cover the body and have long sleeves all the way down to the wrists. If any sort of fluid excretion is expected, isolation gowns are the best option. If a more invasive procedure is being done, sterile gowns will be needed instead. The gowns provide protection against skin to skin contact, or fluid penetration into their clothes.
- Masks & Respirators
Masks and respirators are the first defense for face protection. Masks should be secured tightly around the nose and mouth to prevent any fluid penetration. Along with masks, respirators are used to protect healthcare workers from infectious agents. The most commonly used respirators in healthcare settings are the N95, Kn95, N99, or N100 particulate respirators. When treating a patient with COVID-19, it is essential for medical personnel to protect their nose and mouth to make sure they are not contaminated with the respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
The second line of defense for face protection are goggles. These should fit comfortably around the eyes to provide a barrier, and should not be substituted for personal glasses. When removing goggles, use an ungloved hand to grab the ear tie and lift away from the face. It is very important not to touch your face with gloves, and not to touch the goggles as they may have come in contact with fluids.
- Face Shields
Face shields should cover the forehead, extend below the chin, and wrap around the side of the face. Face shields are often used with masks since they have gaps on the side that don’t provide a seal and can risk contamination. A face shield can be worn as a substitute for goggles since it covers the eyes.
Gloves are the most common type of PPE used by healthcare workers, and their main use is during patient care. Glove material can be either latex, nitrile, or vinyl. Because of allergy concerns, however, nitrile is the best option instead of latex. Just like gowns, for more invasive patient procedures, sterile gloves or two pairs of gloves may be worn. When used properly, gloves protect against contact with infectious material. This is especially important to medical personnel working in hospitals treating patients infected with COVID-19. Improper glove use can be a means for spreading this infectious virus to themselves or other patients. The basic principle of glove use is to avoid touching the face or other surfaces with contaminated gloves, and to consistently change gloves before switching tasks or if they become torn or soiled.
- Hand Sanitizer
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers with 60-95% alcohol are the most effective for reducing the number of germs in a healthcare setting. Hand sanitizer should be used before touching a patient, before moving from a contaminated surface to a clean one, after touching a patient or a patient’s environment, after contact with bodily fluids, and immediately after glove removal. Hand sanitizer is used in addition to hand washing which should be done as frequently as possible. Hand hygiene is an important response to the emergence of COVID-19, and healthcare workers should be especially vigilant of their hand hygiene to prevent infecting themselves, their patients, or anyone else they come in contact with.
When removing PPE, the order should go: gloves, goggles or face shields, isolation gowns or aprons, and then a mask or respirator. Hand sanitizer should be used when changing out of PPE or into clean PPE. The gloves are considered the most contaminated as they probably came in contact with the most surfaces and therefore should be removed first.