Why do we need another PPE review?
This review contextualises the PPE issues with their (relatively low quality) evidence base, focusing particularly on anaesthesia given that this is a high-risk occupational group. Coming from both a UK expert and journal, the recommendations should be carefully considered in terms of the UK's severe COVID outbreak and PPE supply issues.
- The significance of airborne transmission, in particular the infectivity of airborne viral particles beyond 1 meter, is uncertain.
- PPE should be seen as an important and essential part of a larger safety system.
- Intubation is a high-risk procedure for aerosol generation. A ventilated negative pressure room and airborne-precaution PPE is recommended. Ventilation (frequency of air-exchange) is likely more important than negative pressure.1 Chinese evidence suggests COVID transmission at intubation is low with appropriate PPE, although there is wide variability in extremes of PPE used along with post-exposure disinfection (eg. showering).
- High-flow nasal oxygen and supraglottic airway (eg. LMA) placement may also be aerosol generating.
- Most risk of transmission from sneezing and coughing is probably droplet and contact, rather than airborne, although the science behind these questions are complex and uncertain. Evidence attempting to answer these questions is often from non-clinical settings.
- Fluid-resistant surgical masks when worn by staff may reduce transmission by at least 80%. Superiority of respirator masks (eg. P2,P3,N95) is not yet reliably supported by evidence.
- Cook highlights two main PPE problems: 1. PPE supply; 2. Inappropriate use of PPE (using higher level than required).
- PPE should be simple to remove (doff) after use, to reduce contamination risk. Cook notes that Canada's SARS experience highlighted increased risk of self contamination with more complex PPE.
On specific levels of PPE
- Contact precautions (gloves & gown) are recommended when in vicinity of COVID positive patient but not within 2 meters.
- Droplet precautions (+ mask & eye protecting) are recommended within 2 meters of patients.
- Airborne precautions (+ FFP3 respirator mask) are only recommended for aerosol generating procedures (AGP). However classification of procedures as AGP or not is only loosely evidence based.
"Public Health England recommends airborne precautions are used in ‘hot spots’ where aerosol generating procedure are regularly performed, if any suspected COVID-19 patients are present – these include intensive care unit, operating theatre, emergency department resuscitation bays and labour wards where mothers are in stage 2 or 3 of labour"
The elephant in the room is that the lack of PPE supply appears to be the main driver of the rapidly-changing PPE recommendations.
PPE choices need to be made in consideration of the spectrum of risk, hazard and cost, acknowledging different risk profiles depending on location, procedure and individual clinicians.
It's worth highlighting that negative pressure confers no protection on those in the room, it's purpose is to prevent escape of contagion to areas outside the room. ↩