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Textile-based personal protective equipment for healthcare personnel

By : Sumit Mandal and Guowen Song
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Over 13 million healthcare personnel including physicians, assistants and nurses are employed in homes, hospitals and emergency medical services in the United States of America. Personal protective gear can stand between them and disease; say Sumit Mandal and Guowen Song.


Healthcare personnel deliver care directly or indirectly to patients infected with pandemic diseases like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), avian influenza (bird flu), H1N1 (swine flu), and multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.


They also prevent further spread of these infectious diseases. It is necessary for healthcare personnel to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to limit morbidity and mortality of patients in their care, as well as themselves, their family members, and other members of the community to prevent a pandemic's larger societal progression.


In the last few decades, the transmission mechanisms of pandemic infectious pathogens from a patient to healthcare personnel have been thoroughly investigated to develop PPE. Through these investigations, it has been found that infectious pathogens can be transferred to healthcare personnel through their respiratory organs and dermis via air and liquids (water, blood etc.), and through mucus membranes (eyes etc). Thus, respiratory, dermal and mucus membrane protection are essential for healthcare personnel.


Consequently, different types of PPE have been developed and made commercially. Commonly used PPE include medical masks, respirators, gloves, gowns and eye protectors. Some other types of PPE, such as face shields, are also occasionally used by healthcare personnel. Among these, respiratory (medical masks, respirators etc.) and dermal (gloves, gowns etc.) protective equipment are primarily textile-based and used regularly by healthcare personnel.


In the following sections, respiratory and dermal protective equipment for healthcare personnel are critically discussed, and further research needs in the field of respiratory and dermal protective equipment are highlighted to help textile or material engineers to develop high-performance respiratory and dermal protective equipment for better occupational health and safety of healthcare personnel.


Respiratory protective equipment

In a medical institution, healthcare personnel need to wear different types of respiratory protective equipment including surgical masks, dental masks and respirators. Medical masks are readily available to healthcare personnel and cheaper in cost than respirators. Therefore, the use of medical masks by on-duty healthcare personnel is quite common. However, medical masks are not designed to be used to protect healthcare personnel from pandemic infectious diseases. They are mainly designed to protect patients from coughing or exhaled secretions of healthcare personnel. Thus, respirators are preferable for use as respiratory protective equipment, especially in a healthcare environment that may contain pandemic and infectious pathogens.


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