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Cooler, clearer suit to shield doctors from Ebola

The prototype suit for health care workers will reduce the risk of infection for doctors, nurses, and others involved in treating Ebola patients. (Credit: Johns Hopkins University)

A new protective suit is designed to help doctors and nurses treating Ebola patients work longer hours—even in wilting heat—and undress safely, quickly, and without anyone’s help.

The gear, now in prototype form, will shield health care workers from accidental contact with Ebola patients’ contagious body fluids, both during treatment shifts and while stripping off a soiled suit afterward.

It will also keep wearers cooler—an important benefit in hot, humid regions such as West Africa, where the current deadly outbreak is centered.

Ebola suit diagram
View larger. (Credit: Johns Hopkins University)

The design grew out of an event at Johns Hopkins University in which about 65 students, medical, public health and engineering experts, and community volunteers participated.

One volunteer who remains involved is a wedding gown designer with long experience as a costume-maker for the theater, where quick and easy changes of clothes are essential.

“Our goal is to follow the fastest path to get these concepts into the field and having an impact,” says Youseph Yazdi, executive director of the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design.

A better suit

Features of the new suit include a large clear visor in the hood that is integrated into the suit to allow doctors and nurses to see more clearly than with current suits. The visor also allows patients to see health care workers’ faces, humanizing them and making their appearance less intimidating.

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A covered rear zipper and integrated outer gloves reduce infection risks, while step-on tabs help wearers peel off the suits by themselves in seconds, following far fewer steps than with current suits that can add multiple risks of mistakes leading to infection.

The prototype also has air vents as part of an anti-fog breathing system and a small, battery-powered device that cools the user by blowing dry air into the hood. Cardiologist Harikrishna Tandri originally developed the cooling technology for patients in cardiac arrest.

The Johns Hopkins proposal and four others were selected by USAID for its first round of funding from among more than 1,500 Ebola Grand Challenge ideas from innovators around the world.

“The funding from USAID will support moving our concepts into fully functional prototypes,” Yazdi says. “This will allow the team to do more detailed evaluations of our concepts, and quickly move to evaluations in the field.

“By the end of the funded timeline, we will have a product design that is ready to be taken up by a major manufacturer, or several, for large-scale production and distribution.”

The GE Foundation and Clinvue provided support for the suit project. Additional funding came from the BioMaryland Center in Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development. The National Institutes of Health supported the cooling system development.

Source: Johns Hopkins University