Health workers are exposed to situations that put their health at risk and can turn them into vehicles for the transmission of infections. That’s why they need to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) all the time.
Types of equipment for personal protection
There are as many equipment for the protection of health personnel as there are risky situations. And each one has its own and appropriate way of use. The personal protective equipment described below is the most commonly used and prevents contact between infectious agents and the worker by creating a barrier between the two. Gloves protect hands; gowns or aprons, fur, and dresses; the masks and respirators, the mouth and the nose; the glasses, the eyes, and the masks all over the face. Respiratory protectors are also designed to protect the respiratory tract from airborne transmission of infectious agents.
Gloves are the most common type of protective equipment for personnel working on health care procedures. There are three types, mainly: for patient examination, for surgery and for handling chemotherapy agents. There are made of different materials: vinyl, latex and nitrile, among others; sterilized and non-sterile. As some people have an allergy to latex, the use of gloves and other products made with this material is less and less frequent.
Gloves for general examinations are not sterilized, are not designed to fit the hand, and can come in pairs or as individual gloves. Most activities related to patient care require the use of these types of gloves.
Surgical gloves are sterile, and come in sizes (to best fit the hand) and in pairs. They are used in all invasive procedures in patients. Some surgical procedures require the use of two pairs of gloves.
Gloves for handling chemotherapy agents can be found sterile and non-sterile, they come in pairs or as individual gloves and, as their name implies, their main characteristic is that they are made to protect against contact with agents used in this type of therapy. .
Gloves should be worn whenever contact with blood, body fluids, secretions, excretions, and contaminated objects is anticipated, for touching exposed skin and mucous membranes, as well as for handling chemotherapy drugs.
Recommendations when using gloves
Check the composition of the gloves, in case of allergy to latex.
Hands should always be washed when using sterile gloves.
Gloves should not be too loose or too tight. They should fit the user’s hands comfortably.
When working on a patient or in an area where medications are handled, the areas least susceptible to being contaminated should be touched first, and then the contaminated ones.
The face, eyes, or other exposed parts of the body should never be touched, and other personal protective equipment should be adjusted while wearing contaminated gloves.
Gloves should always be changed when they are heavily contaminated or have broken.
Always wear new gloves when caring for another patient or working in a new area.
Hands should be washed thoroughly after removing gloves.
Medical gloves should never be shared, washed or reused.
Gowns or aprons
Like gloves, gowns or aprons act as a barrier between health personnel and patients or dangerous drugs or waste materials, especially in relation to the protection of clothing. Aprons are used if the risk of contamination is limited (for example, when transporting a patient in a wheelchair), while gowns are the quintessential equipment when some form of significant contamination is anticipated.
The gowns must completely cover the torso and arms, be tailored to the user and have long sleeves, which reach the wrist, in a comfortable way. In the case of drug handling gowns, the sleeve cuffs must be worn tightly closed.
There are three types of gowns: for isolation, for surgery and for handling chemical agents. The former are not sterilized, and are used to protect the user from contact with microorganisms and small amounts of body fluids, in regular patient care activities. The latter come as sterilized or to be sterilized products, and can be found in different sizes. They are used during procedures that are surgical or require sterile environments (such as inserting a central line). Both, depending on the material from which they are made (cotton or synthetic material), can be reused or disposable, and vary in the degree of impermeability. Chemical handling gowns are disposable (made from polypropylene or other laminated materials).