No matter where you work in healthcare, on the frontline of an Emergency Department or inside an operating room, the goal of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is to prevent exposure to harmful pathogens or substances. For those in healthcare and concerned about exposure to pathogens, it means protecting our mucous membranes—our eyes, nose and mouth—from a person’s blood or body fluids. This may include the invisible bits that escape from the nose and mouth during coughing, sneezing and even just regular breathing.
Protect Your Face
Masks, respirators, face shields, goggles, and safety glasses are all barriers that might be used during care for patients who may be contagious. How do you know who might be contagious? That can be the most challenging part! Generally, individuals who present for treatment with a fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, fever and cough, or fever and rash are all potentially infected with an infectious disease we may want to protect ourselves from. However, some patients may have conditions that pre-exist such as Cdiff, MRSA, VRE which also may require additional precautions.
Protect Your Hands & Body
Remember, you do not have to wait for a diagnosis before you use PPE. Protect yourself first! Gloves and gowns help protect our skin and clothing from blood and body fluids. It is essential to make sure you are using proper glove etiquette – do not touch your skin or clothing (or cell phone!) with your gloved hands.
Make sure you remove all pieces of PPE carefully so as not to contaminate yourself. While there are some things we might encounter in healthcare that are dangerous to our skin itself (like chemotherapy and other medications), most pathogens we are concerned with need an access point into our skin (like through a rash, cut, or burn) or even through our mucous membranes.
Gloves and gowns are imperative in helping healthcare workers avoid developing short term fomites—contamination that we may move from our gown into our eye for instance, or from our clothing to our hands and then to our mouth.
While diseases such as Ebola, SARS or MERS can seem new and frightening, there is nothing new about the way they are transmitted or the measures we can take to protect ourselves.
PPE tips to remember include:
- Cover your mucous membranes to prevent the direct entry into your body
- Practice careful glove hygiene, including:
- Placing gloves on clean hands
- Remembering to avoid touching clean things (clothing, hair, glasses, environment) with dirty gloves
- Removing your gloves in a safe manner (glove-in-glove or similar)
- Performing proper hand hygiene once your gloves are removed
Your safety lies within your hands—your clean or gloved hands!