Fighting a devastating epidemic

© EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection
© EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection
© EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

Protective clothing and accessories such as facemasks and shoe covers based on nonwovens are essential components of the comprehensive personal protective equipment (PPE) that was recommended for dealing with the Ebola virus.

The virus raged across West Africa from the end of 2013 and was only finally declared no longer an emergency in March 2016.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advised that anyone entering an Ebola patient room should wear at least gloves, a fluid resistant or impermeable gown, goggles or a face shield and a facemask. Additional PPE may be required in certain situations, including but not limited to, double gloving, disposable shoe covers and leg coverings.

Such protective clothing is already widely employed in many countries and single-use nonwoven-based gowns and drapes are well-proven in hospitals and other medical environments as extremely effective tools in fighting healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

In the EU, for example, patient safety is now top of the agenda in every hospital, with one in ten patients said to be impacted by HAIs.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the direct cost of these infections is now €7 billion each year, and €1.2 billion is attributable to surgical site infections. In orthopedic surgery, such an infection can prolong a hospital stay by two weeks, increasing health care costs by more than 300%.

The key advantages of single-use nonwoven-based protective garments include:

  • Simple logistics – they are bought, used and then disposed of.
  • For every single surgery, the products are new, clean and unused every time, providing confidence and security.
  • They give hospitals the flexibility to choose the preferred systems for every procedure. Drapes and gowns can be chosen from a range of models to ensure that they provide the right level of protection at the right price.
  • They are budget-friendly, with no hidden costs such as laundering, repairing, re-sterilization or re-packaging. The costs of single-use drapes and gowns are known for every procedure.

During 2013, EDANA – the international association serving the nonwovens and related industries which sponsors the tri-annual INDEX™ shows held in Geneva – welcomed a new report prepared by the ECDC, making a number of recommendations for dealing with HAIs.

“Experience has shown that in surgery, single-use surgical barrier materials – gloves, gowns, drapes and masks – are a key factor in preventing the transfer of micro-organisms,” says EDANA General Manager Pierre Wiertz. “Although in Europe the market penetration of single-use gowns and drapes has reached around 60-65% – taking into account geographical differences – this is still significantly lower than in the USA. More has to be done to help increasing that penetration and thus contribute towards better infection control to reduce HAIs.”

The significance of disinfecting wipes and other nonwoven-based cleaning materials in fighting HAI’s should also not be overlooked.

Nonwoven protective clothing was also widely deployed to deal with previous epidemic scares, including the 2003 SARS outbreak, the wave of Bird Flu that swept through south-east Asia in 2005 and during the Swine Flu panic of 2009, when the demand for face masks, in particular, exploded on a global scale.

During 2014 and 2015, major manufacturers of nonwoven protective clothing for healthcare workers worked around the clock to meet fresh demand in response to the Ebola threat before it was eventually brought under control using such recognised public health containment measures.

It’s acknowledged, however, that further outbreaks are highly likely, and researchers at laboratories around the world continue to work on an effective vaccine.

Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks, in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.

Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids.

Human-to-human transmission of the Ebola virus is primarily associated with direct or indirect contact with blood and body fluids and transmission to health care workers occurs only when appropriate infection control measures have not been observed.

However, it’s not always possible to identify patients with the virus early, because initial symptoms can be non-specific. For this reason, health care workers are urged to apply standard precautions consistently with all patients – regardless of their diagnosis – at all times. These include basic hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, safe injection practices and the use of personal protective equipment.

Despite all the protection they afford, there was one thing that disposable nonwovens could not provide to the health specialists working in West Africa – respite from the intense heat.

“The heat is so bad that it becomes a real operational problem for people wearing the protective suits,” said one medic. “You can feasibly last about an hour in one of these suits in hotter environments before you need to get out. Doctors in West Africa treating Ebola patients worked in 45 minute shifts in response to this.”




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