what is PPE? personal protective equipment

PPE: What exactly is personal protective equipment (PPE)?

PPE has become a popular acronym in the past weeks, as reporters have been constantly discussing the critical shortage of personal protective equipment.  Personal protective equipment acts as a barrier between infectious materials such as viral and bacterial contaminants and your skin, nose, eyes, or mouth, and is crucial in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

PPE acts as a barrier between infectious materials such as viral and bacterial contaminants and your skin, mouth, nose, or eyes (mucous membranes). The barrier has the potential to block transmission of contaminants from blood, body fluids, or respiratory secretions. PPE may also protect patients who are at high risk for contracting infections through a surgical procedure or who have a medical condition, such as, an immunodeficiency, from being exposed to substances or potentially infectious material brought in by visitors and healthcare workers.

The most common articles of personal protective equipment include:

Respirators: Reduces wearer’s exposure to particles including small particle aerosols and large droplets.

surgical masks

Surgical masks: Surgical masks are fluid resistant and provide protection against large droplets, splashes, or sprays of bodily or other hazardous fluids. Protects the patient from the wearer’s respiratory emissions.

safety goggles anti-fog

Medical goggles: Appropriately fitted goggles with a manufacturer’s anti-fog coating provide the most reliable and practical eye protection from splashes, sprays, and respiratory droplets.

face shield

Face shields: Protects the wearer’s entire face from chemical splashes, or potentially infectious materials.  Face shields are commonly used as an infection control alternative to goggles.

medical gloves ppe

Gloves: Medical gloves are disposable and usually made of either latex, nitrile, or vinyl material. The FDA reviews these devices to ensure that performance criteria such as tear resistance, leak resistance, and bio-compatibility are met.


What is considered PPE?

According to the WHO, essential personal protective equipment will vary situationally.  For example, the equipment required to treat an Ebola patient would be different than the equipment required a COVID-19 patient.  The coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.  These droplets can land in the mouths, noses, or eyes of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.  Because of this, it is recommended to wear a respirator accompanied by either a face shield or a pair of medical goggles.  The proper use of these materials, frequent hand washing, and social distancing will significantly reduce the probability of contracting the coronavirus.


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