Healthcare workers treating patients with infections such as coronavirus (COVID-19) are at risk of infection themselves. Healthcare workers use personal protective equipment (PPE) to shield themselves from droplets from coughs, sneezes or other body fluids from infected patients and contaminated surfaces that might infect them. PPE may include aprons, gowns or coveralls (a one-piece suit), gloves, masks and breathing equipment (respirators), and goggles. PPE must be put on correctly; it may be uncomfortable to wear, and healthcare workers may contaminate themselves when they remove it. Some PPE has been adapted, for example, by adding tabs to grab to make it easier to remove. Guidance on the correct procedure for putting on and removing PPE is available from organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA.
This is the 2020 update of a review first published in 2016 and previously updated in 2019.
What you may want to know:
We found 24 relevant studies with 2278 participants that evaluated types of PPE, modified PPE, procedures for putting on and removing PPE, and types of training. Eighteen of the studies did not assess healthcare workers who were treating infected patients but simulated the effect of exposure to infection using fluorescent markers or harmless viruses or bacteria. Most of the studies were small, and only one or two studies addressed each of our questions.
Types of PPE
Covering more of the body leads to better protection. However, as this is usually associated with increased difficulty in putting on and removing PPE, and the PPE is less comfortable. Coveralls are the most difficult PPE to remove but may offer the best protection, followed by long gowns, gowns and aprons. Respirators worn with coveralls may protect better than a mask worn with a gown, but are more difficult to put on. More breathable types of PPE may lead to similar levels of contamination but be more comfortable. Contamination was common in half the studies despite improved PPE.
Gowns that have gloves attached at the cuff, so that gloves and gown are removed together and cover the wrist area, and gowns that are modified to fit tightly at the neck may reduce contamination. Also, adding tabs to gloves and face masks may lead to less contamination. However, one study did not find fewer errors in putting on or removing modified gowns.
Guidance on PPE use
Following CDC guidance for apron or gown removal, or any instructions for removing PPE compared to an individual’s own preferences may reduce self-contamination. Removing gown and gloves in one step, using two pairs of gloves, and cleaning gloves with bleach or disinfectant (but not alcohol) may also reduce contamination.
Face-to-face training, computer simulation and video training led to fewer errors in PPE removal than training delivered as written material only or a traditional lecture.
A high performance Protective Clothing or Isolation gowns needs to be used by a person who is following a right instruction and trained for wearing and taking off. In that case, the possibility of spreading contaminate would be controlled to be as low as possible.