Personal protective equipment (PPEs) are protective gears — clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect a person from injury or infection. PPEs work as a barrier between an individual’s skin, mouth, nose, or eyes, and viral or bacterial infections.
In the context of Covid-19, which is spread through close contact and droplets (though airborne transmission is also claimed, but not proved so far), PPEs include the following but can vary between medical professionals, hospital cleaners, and patient visitors:
Components of PPEs are goggles, face-shield, mask, gloves, coverall/gowns (with or without aprons), headcover, and shoe cover.
Face shield and goggles
Face shields and goggles are required because droplets generated by cough or sneeze of an infected person, or during aerosol-generating procedures carried out in a clinical setting, could contaminate the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and mouth of the exposed frontline personnel.
Respiratory viruses, including coronaviruses, target mainly the upper and lower respiratory tracts. So, protecting the airway from the particulate matter generated by droplets/aerosols prevents human infection. Masks are of different types. There are two types of masks which are recommended for various categories of personnel working in hospital or community settings, depending upon the work environment:
1. Triple-layer medical mask: A triple-layer medical mask is a disposable, fluid-resistant one. It provides protection to the wearer from droplets of infectious material emitted during coughing, sneezing or talking.
2. N-95 Respirator mask: An N-95 respirator mask is a protective device with high filtration efficiency for airborne particles. To provide the requisite air seal to the wearer, such masks are designed to achieve a very close facial fit. Since these provide a much tighter air seal than triple-layer medical masks, they are designed to protect the wearer from inhaling airborne particles.
When a person touches an object or surface contaminated by a Covid-19-infected person and then touches his own eyes, nose or mouth, they may get exposed to the virus. Although this is not thought to be a predominant mode of transmission, care should be exercised while handling objects or surfaces potentially contaminated by suspect or confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Nitrile gloves are preferred to latex gloves because they resist chemicals, including certain disinfectants like chlorine. Also, there is a high risk of allergy to latex among and contraction of allergic dermatitis among health workers.
Coverall/gowns are designed to protect the torso of healthcare providers from exposure to the virus. They are designed to cover the whole body, including back and lower legs and sometimes head and feet as well, the design of medical/isolation gowns do not provide continuous whole-body protection (for example, possible openings in the back; coverage is only up to the mid-calf).
By using appropriate protective clothing, it is possible to create a barrier for eliminating or reducing contact and droplet exposure. This helps protect healthcare professional working in close proximity (within 1 metre) of suspect or confirmed Covid-19 patients and their secretions.
Shoe covers should be made up of impermeable fabric to be used over shoes to facilitate personal protection and decontamination.
Coveralls usually cover the head. But those using gowns should use a head cover that covers the head and neck while providing clinical care to patients. Hair and hair extensions should fit inside the head cover.