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PPE: a double-edged sword

Paramedics and EpiGuard instructors reflect on the the use of PPE

When working with highly infectious diseases, we don Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This includes:

  • eye protection (e.g. goggles),
  • face masks or full respirators,
  • protective suits, and
  • gloves

We like to think of PPE as something good, because it protects us. And it is!

PPE does protect us from the dangerous exposure to infectious pathogens. However, PPE can also be dangerous!

  • Eye protection reduces your visibility – especially laterally, but also due to fogging.
  • Face masks and respirators increase required breathing effort.
  • Protective suits and head covers make you warm and sweating will dehydrate you.
  • Both gloves and suits reduce dexterity and mobility.
  • Did we remember to mention reduced hearing inside the suit too?

So both senses and movement are reduced, and after some time you get exhausted and dehydrated. These factors increase the risk of making mistakes.

Hence the double-edged sword. PPE both protects us AND puts us at risk at the same time.

The difference is that we are used considering the protection from hazardous pathogens as more important than the inherent risks involved with using PPE.

When it comes to medical isolation transportation, however, the good news is that it’s possible to have the best of both worlds. The EpiShuttle is a medical isolation transport unit, where the patient can be transported within a protective bubble. You use PPE when loading and unlaoding the patient, but after you have closed the lid and decontaminated the exterior, you can safely doff and still be able to treat your patient. Full PPE is only needed when lifting the patient in and out of the EpiShuttle.

So on the one hand PPE protects us from dangerous pathogens, but on the other hand it makes us more prone to fatigue, reduces our mobility and increases the risk of mistakes.

It is important to consider all types of risk when developing procedures for handling contagious patients.

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