What is PPE?
PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment, which covers a range of items that physically protect healthcare and other workers from causes of harm. Without the physical barrier of PPE, the worker has a greater risk of being injured or becoming ill.
PPE can include a uniform, gloves, mask, face shield, goggles, apron, gown, cap and boots. Some elements will be more appropriate than others depending on the pathogen of concern, its mode of transmission, the level of risk, and the procedure being undertaken.
Gloves are the most commonly used PPE.
Here is a list of select PPE and their key use in healthcare, head to toe.
The uniform replaces street clothes and street shoes inside the workplace, to avoid infection transmission from outside into health facilities and, equally, from inside to out. In specific areas such as the delivery room or the operating room staff must don a fresh uniform, to avoid infection being transmitted in childbirth or during surgical operations for example.
Caps are a common PPE to prevent hair falling and causing contamination, and as part of the uniform in some sterile situations, especially for surgery.
There are also two types of goggles: protective googles and safety glasses. Amongst their specific uses, both offer protection from body fluid splashes such as due to haemorrhagic fever, like Marburg or Ebola. Protective googles are wraparound. They also protect from dust. Safety glasses are advised for activities such as medical and surgical procedures, in a laboratory, and for handling waste that will be incinerated.
The two types of mask, the surgical mask and respirator, filter the air and provide protection in different ways. The surgical mask filters the particles of air exhaled by the person wearing it, thus protecting the people that the wearer comes in close contact with, for example patients in the operating theatre. It also provides some protection for the wearer, from pathogens spread by droplets such as the common cold or influenza.The respirator, or FFP2 and N95 mask, filters inhaled particles of air. This is mandatory PPE when the wearer will be in contact with someone suspected or confirmed to have an infectious disease that is spread by airborne transmission, such as tuberculosis.
A face shield, commonly made of clear plastic, covers the whole face. It can protect from flying debris and from body fluid splashes for example, but it is also useful as additional protection when a healthcare worker must use their surgical mask or respirator for an extended period, or need to re-use either. A face shield can also be used in place of goggles.