Imagine wearing a three-piece suit to your gym's sauna. That's just a glimpse of what caregivers go through while treating Ebola patients in the field. The current protective suit is hot, uncomfortable and gives opportunity for infection during removal. A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins just won a multi-million dollar contract to design a new and improved suit that keeps the deadly disease out and cool air in.
Imagine facing a deadly, infectious disease, like Ebola, knowing your protective gear might not be foolproof.
"Healthcare workers on the front lines can't really tolerate wearing the suit for more than an hour," Youseph Yazdi, Executive Director for the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, told Ivanhoe.
The current protective suits also require 20 steps to get on and off, and there's no room for error.
"And when they're removing the suit, there's an opportunity to get some of the infectious material onto their skin," Yazdi said.
So Yazdi and his team came up with three solutions.
One: "Rapid removal or doffing of the personal protective equipment," Yazdi told Ivanhoe.
Two: "Making the personal protective equipment more comfortable and cooler, so people can wear it longer," he said.
Three: "Safer doffing."
The goal? To reduce infection risks for caregivers.
"If you could reduce the number of times they have to remove the suit by half, you'd reduce the risks from that element of the risk by half, it would have a huge impact," he said.
With the new prototype, student Melanie told Ivanhoe, "We have it down to seven steps, and we're still working on improving that."
Some of the new improvements include a rear zipper to reduce infection, air vents in the hood, and a small, battery-powered dry air source to cool the user, making it safer and more comfortable.
"The crisis is now," Yazdi said. We need solutions that can be effective now."
"As engineers we're trying to contribute in any way that we can, um, I think, and this challenge is a good way to do that," student Allie told Ivanhoe.
Johns Hopkins will share about $1.7 million with four other winners of a federally-funded design contest. Yazdi is hoping the funding will help to get some of the elements of the suit ready for mass production as early as May. Some of the other winning innovations are antiseptic gels, and long-lasting sprays against pathogens.
BACKGROUND: Ebola, previously known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a rare and deadly disease caused by infection with one of the Ebola virus strains. Ebola can cause disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees). There are five identified Ebola virus species, four of which are known to cause disease in humans. The fifth has caused disease in nonhuman primates. Ebola viruses are found in several African countries. Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, outbreaks have appeared sporadically in Africa. The natural reservoir host of Ebola virus remains unknown. However, on the basis of evidence and the nature of similar viruses, researchers believe that the virus is animal-borne and that bats are the most likely reservoir. (Source: http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/about.html)
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS: Symptoms may appear anywhere from two to 21 days after exposure to Ebola, but the average is 8 to 10 days. Recovery from Ebola depends on good supportive clinical care and the patient's immune response. People who recover from Ebola infection develop antibodies that last for at least 10 years. Some symptoms are:
· Severe headache
· Muscle pain
· Abdominal pain
· Unexplained hemorrhage
LOOKING AHEAD: Current ebola suits used in medical emergencies have many virtues and yet many flaws as well. They are incredibly hot, difficult to put on and take off, provide poor visibility, and have coverage gaps that can expose healthcare workers to pathogens. Youseph Yazdi, Executive Director at Johns Hopkins University's Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, teams up with researchers in designing a new and improved suit that keeps the deadly disease out and cool air in. They have narrowed it down to seven steps from twenty and are still working on improving it. (Source: http://www.baltimoremagazine.net/2015/3/4/a-hopkins-hackathon-leads-to-improved-ebola-suit)
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The Johns Hopkins University
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