Countless articles have been written about good infection control practices. Scientists, bloggers, journalists and healthcare professionals have all commented on the correct use of masks, proper surface disinfection, when to use N95 respirators and other topics regarding how to best protect against COVID-19 and other pathogens. Some articles are consistent while others contradict each other, resulting in significant confusion about how to use personal protective equipment (PPE) correctly.
As a follow-up to our blog post on the three mistakes to avoid when purchasing PPE , our team thought it would be a good idea to separate some myths from reality.
In this blog, we’ll give you the lowdown on best practices to help you better navigate this complex topic and consequently, better protect yourself every day.
1. Always prioritize using an N95 respirator.
True and false. It all depends on the context of use and the risks associated with the environment.
A respirator provides more effective protection than a face mask when worn to protect the user from airborne particles. According to the CDC1, a respirator should be prioritized when the wearer:
- is in close contact with people with an airborne virus (e.g., COVID-19)
- is at increased risk due to an underlying medical condition
- is in contact with the public due to the nature of his/her work or in situations where social distancing is not possible (public transportation, hospital, etc.)
- works in an environment where hazardous airborne particles are present (factories, laboratories, mines, etc.)
In summary, it is true that a respirator filters more particles and provides a more airtight fit than a mask. However, when the environment presents a minimal risk, it is not necessary to prioritize the use of a respirator. A high-quality, surgical grade, 3-ply mask can provide adequate protection, provided it is worn properly, contains multiple layers of non-woven material and has an adjustable nosepiece.
Tip: Try to avoid the use of cloth masks as they offer the least effective respiratory protection.
2. Twisting the earloops is an effective way to adjust a mask and make it more airtight.
False. Wearers who want a tighter fit sometimes twist the mask straps around their ears. This is not recommended, as the mask’s tight corners produce the opposite effect, i.e., they create a larger opening that allows germs and airborne particles to pass through. Air will always enter through the path of least resistance.
Tip: If your mask is too large, the Canadian government website suggests tying knots in the earloops behind your ears so that it fits your face better and provides more effective protection. Ideally, try a different model or brand of mask to find the one that fits you best.
3. A mask must be changed after every patient.
True and false. It may be necessary to change it BEFORE the end of a patient appointment if the mask becomes wet. In fact, several studies have shown that a wet mask loses its filtration capacity and is a source of bacteria. A mask can become wet when:
- the wearer sweats, breathes, sneezes, coughs or has a runny nose.
- the mask comes into contact with airborne droplets, a wet hand, steam, spray or dust.
- the weather is wet or cold.
- body fluids or other contaminants are present.
However, it is true that a mask used in an environment where healthcare professionals have a high risk of contact with splashes, sprays and respiratory secretions should be changed at the end of each appointment or following surgery. This prevents cross-contamination, or the transmission of an infection acquired during a stay in a health care setting (commonly known as healthcare associated infections).
Tip: PPE manufacturers are constantly innovating. Some have developed technologies that allow masks to repel moisture. Medicom’s SafeMask SofSkin keeps your face dry and comfortable throughout the procedure and softens with wear.
4. It does not matter how you remove a mask from the package.
False. Many articles have discussed the proper ways to wear a mask and the most effective mask materials, but few have discussed how to remove a clean mask from its packaging and how to dispose of used masks. This is one of the reasons why most people do not follow recommendations to reduce cross-contamination. Reaching into the box and removing multiple masks at once is not recommended. The CDC recommends2 washing or sanitizing your hands each time a mask is removed from its packaging. Also, care should be taken to touch only one mask in the box to avoid contaminating others.
Used masks should be disposed of in a container designated for the disposal of contaminated waste.
Tip: At Medicom, SafeMask Architect masks are packaged to reduce the risk of contamination. The straps are turned up, a small detail that makes a big difference. This reduces the risk of removing multiple masks from the box at once.
5. There is no right or wrong way to use surface disinfectants.
True. There is no universal procedure for surface disinfection products because each manufacturer provides specific conditions to ensure the effectiveness of the specific product formulation. That’s why you should always read the label on the package3. Disinfectant sprays are designed to completely eliminate certain viruses and bacteria. To do this, the product must remain wet on a surface for a certain period of time, commonly called “contact time”. This ensures that all pathogens listed on the label are removed. Rinsing or wiping the surface immediately after application is not recommended. For complete disinfection, it is essential to respect the contact time indicated on the label before drying or wiping.
Additionally, disinfectant wipes should be used on a single surface and then discarded. Reusing a wipe on several surfaces only spreads germs around, which defeats the purpose.
Tip: Choose a product with a short contact time to achieve adequate and rapid disinfection against fungicidal, bactericidal and virucidal pathogens. Medicom ProSurface disinfectant spray kills all pathogens listed on its label, including human coronavirus, in just 1 minute.
6. Whether it’s a spray or wipes, all surface disinfectants do the same thing.
False. Not many people know this, but disinfectant sprays and wipes are actually complementary products. However, customers tend to choose one or the other, even though each format has its own advantages.
Wipes are ideal for disinfecting large, non-porous surfaces between patients or procedures. The spray format makes it easier to clean hard-to-reach surfaces when performing more thorough cleaning at the end of the day.
Tip: Always have both formats on hand for optimal surface disinfection.
7. Gloves are sold in one size because their materials stretch easily.
False. Medical and surgical gloves come in many sizes, regardless of whether they are made of vinyl, latex, nitrile or chloroprene. When using your hands all day long, the importance of having gloves that fit properly cannot be underestimated. Gloves that are too small or too tight can cause injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, contribute to hand fatigue and are less resistant to punctures and tears. Conversely, gloves that are too large decrease tactile sensitivity, reduce manual dexterity and present a risk of cross-contamination.
Tip: Before choosing gloves, try a variety of products and take the time to select the right glove for your ongoing use.
8. It is the type of materials used that determines the level of protection and use of PPE.
True and false. Before purchasing PPE, it is important to determine the level of protection needed based on the task and its associated level of risk4. In other words, masks, gloves and gowns must first meet regulatory and industry standards.
For surgical or medical grade masks, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) F2100 standard classifies protective masks according to three levels of protection. Each level has requirements for bacterial filtration efficiency, particulate filtration efficiency, flammability and fluid resistance5.
The same is true for gloves. Some protect healthcare professionals against exposure to fentanyl or chemotherapy drugs (ASTM D6978-05 standard). Some thicker gloves are safer for work conditions where there is a high risk of perforation, for example during surgery.
Finally, disposable gowns are also classified according to the level of protection they provide. A gown worn to perform disinfection or deep cleaning should, in most cases, be different from the one used for surgery. ANSI (American National Standard Institute) and AAMI (Association of the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation) standards describe the barrier performance of gowns with respect to the penetration of fluids or fluid-borne pathogens.6
Tip: It is essential to select PPE according to the intended use. This not only ensures effective protection; it can also help save money.
We hope this article has answered some of your questions. New information about PPE and the COVID-19 virus is published daily and Medicom makes it a point to stay abreast of the latest scientific findings to continue to educate our customers and partners. In addition, our research and development and quality teams are always working to ensure that our products meet the highest standards while remaining at the forefront of innovation.
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