Shortages of PPE have left hospitals facing an impossible choice between reusing single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) or sending workers into the clinical environment without any PPE at all. We consider if decontamination of PPE is a suitable alternative in the fight against COVID-19.
More than six weeks into lockdown, the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a profound impact. No more so than for Britain’s frontline health workers, who have drawn admiration and support from across the nation as they work tirelessly to control the virus’ spread.
Yet unexpected shortages of essential disposable PPE has left hospitals faced with an impossible choice – between reusing single use PPE or sending workers into the clinical environment without any PPE at all. Understandably, many have opted to reuse their masks, gowns and goggles – all of which are designed to be disposed of – rather than risking going without.
It is a choice no one should have to make but, faced with dwindling stock of PPE, professionals in supplies are having to consider it.
However, a new alternative is gaining interest. Hydrogen peroxide vapour has long been used as a powerful decontaminant to kill micro-organisms by a process of oxidisation which destroys the cell wall. Research has shown it can eradicate significantly more resistant micro-organisms, such as c.difficile, and research is ongoing to confirm its anticipated efficacy against COVID-19.
Now, many hospitals are considering its potential to decontaminate disposable PPE as an interim solution for shortages.
As we tackle the spread of coronavirus, we must harness technology to ensure that frontline workers don’t go without
Pilot schemes in the US had already indicated that hydrogen peroxide vapour could effectively decontaminate PPE exposed to geobacillus stearothermophilus, giving disposable PPE 20 additional uses if necessary.
A few weeks ago, when NHS Trusts started to become concerned about possible PPE shortages on the horizon, they asked Inivos – a developer and provider of decontamination technology designed to eliminate viruses – bacteria and other contaminants if its technology could be used to decontaminate disposable PPE and eliminate COVID-19.
The result was ProXpod, a rapid deployment decontamination chamber designed to provide effective and safe decontamination of PPE ranging from gowns to visors and even facemasks. Used with automated decontamination technology, such as ProXcide, to produce hydrogen peroxide vapour, capable of achieving high efficacy with a low chemical concentration through ultra-sonic dispersal, PPE can be decontaminated quickly and effectively.
Ultraviolet-C light has also been shown to be effective in decontaminating micro-organisms at varying levels of resistance. Like HPV, it does this by breaking down the cell wall and eradicating the genetic material within. Known for decontaminating spaces in impressively short times and therefore a popular solution for busy A&E units, it is a less compelling choice for the decontamination of PPE due the possibility of shadows, cast by the folds in fabric, blocking the UV-C rays.
The two technologies can be used across health practises and PPE to destroy microorganisms. Their ability to effectively decontaminate their surrounding areas in a matter of hours provides an answer as to why the decontamination of PPE is possible during this time of shortage, in the current fight against COVID-19.
Certainly, the safety and protection of health professionals, carers and patients must remain a priority, with the safe reuse of thoroughly decontaminated PPE remaining a safe choice of protection until PPE supply returns to safe levels.
The decontamination of PPE is undoubtedly key in combatting COVID-19. As we tackle the spread of coronavirus, we must harness technology to ensure that frontline workers don’t go without.
Tautvydas Karitonas is head of research and development for Inivos, where he leads research and development into numerous pioneering solutions for virus outbreaks.