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Protective suits for infection control

Amid the coronavirus outbreak there is a huge demand for infection control equipment, and health authorities across the globe are struggling with shortages. A protective suit for infection control is most necessary for healthcare workers treating suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

infection control

What are protective suits?

Protective suits are also referred to as coverall suits, hazmat suits, decontamination suits or protective gowns. These are garments worn to eliminate the risk of infection, contamination or other dangers, and are used across a range of different professions. Firefighters, health personnel, law enforcement and researchers all use protective suits in certain areas of their work. Depending on the type of tasks you’re performing, and the risk it poses to your health, a protective suit comes in a number of different varieties. We’ll take a closer look at these further down in this article.

Typically, protective suits are combined with some sort of breathing apparatus, or other equipment for supplying the wearer with sufficient amounts of oxygen. Again, this will also be coupled with the type of work that the suit is intended for. In a health care context the purpose of the gear is to avoid infections spreading. Medicinal research, however, like the one being conducted on trying to find a vaccine for COVID-19, may require a higher level of protective equipment.

What kinds of protective suits are there?

Because the protective suit is always matched with the kind of work being performed, they come in different kinds, and are rated at different levels. The rating systems look different in the EU and the US, but they correspond to each other to some extent.

US rating system for protective suits

  • Level A: Suits worn for chemical protection, with a breathing apparatus enclosed within the suit. Protects against vapour, mist, gas and particles.
  • Level B: Suits worn to protect against splashes from chemicals that are dangerous, and combined with a self-contained breathing apparatus. Protects against mist, gas and particles, but not vapour.
  • Level C: Suits identical to level B, but different in that the wearer is not required to have a self-contained breathing apparatus. These suits are still combined with a respiratory protection unit, such as air-purifying respirators.
  • Level D: Suits that don’t protect against chemical exposure, but rather are a general protective measure.

EU rating system for protective suits

  • Type 1: Suits that protect against liquids and gases that are poisonous (equivalent to US Level A) and are gas tight.
  • Type 2: Suits that protect against liquids and gases that are poisonous (equivalent to US Level B) and are not gas tight.
  • Type 3: Suits that protect against chemicals in liquid state, but for a limited time period. Safe against liquid jets (ie, liquids sprayed onto the suit through a jet).
  • Type 4: Suits that protect against chemicals in liquid state, but for a limited time period (equivalent to US Level C). Safe against liquid saturation (ie, liquids that seep or run onto the suit).
  • Type 5: Suits that protect against dry particles in the air for a limited period of time.
  • Type 6: Suits that protect against liquid chemicals that are lightly sprayed (equivalent to US Level D).

Who needs a protective suit for infection control?

A protective suit is worn by health care professionals when the danger of contamination or infection spread of a disease is high. This can be when an area needs to be cleaned after an infected person has been there; when taking care of infected patients; or when handling infectious materials, such as medical samples from infected individuals. A protective suit is certainly highly effective, but it’s not intended as personal protective equipment (PPE) in other contexts than professional ones.

In the case of caring for sick people at home, infection control measures should always be taken by relatives, but generally speaking the recommendation then is:0

  • isolation where possible
  • taking care with personal hygiene and
  • waiting a few days until symptoms have cleared.

A protective suit is not necessary in private homes in the absolute majority of cases.

Protective suits and the coronavirus pandemic

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has brought an unprecedented global focus onto personal protective equipment and other infection control measures. Protective suits are in high demand in hospitals and emergency services across the world. The WHO recommends health care workers to take standard precautions, and wear gloves, long-sleeve gowns, as well as eye, nose and mouth protection when in contact with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients. 

It should also be noted that there is currently a concern amongst health professionals that individuals will start to stock up on protective suits, and so cause a shortage of the equipment in health care. For now, the WHO does not recommendspecific PPE for individuals, but rather basic protective measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

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