Fear of Ebola is spreading much faster than the actual virus. We've been inundated with questions over the past week about protective clothing. And since the internet is filled with the opinions of Preppers and armchair physicians weighing in on the decision to transport American aid workers infected with Ebola to an Atlanta hospital, we decided we'd weigh in with our more informed recommendations for protective equipment along with information we've gleaned from our discussions with DuPont and 3M representatives.
First off, the best protection from Ebola is to avoid it. You're much better off staying far away from people with Ebola than trying to protect yourself from direct threats. If there is simply no way to avoid contact, you'll want to have a complete array of personal protective equipment and a way of either disposing of the clothing when leaving the area or a complete decontamination station.
Ebola is contracted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. Our first choice for protection of the lungs, as well as the mucous membrane of the eyes, lips, and nostrils, is a full-face respirator such as the 3M 6000 Series Full Face Mask (For the full face mask with appropriate Ebola filter combo, click here). We've seen pictures of health care workers with paper masks over their faces (including the picture accompanying this blog post). Disposable masks aren't what we'd personally want in these situations. And to be sure, we're glad we're not the ones going in. But disposable masks simply don't provide the face seal that a full face mask, or even a half-face respirators like the 3M 7500 Series mask with P100 filters can. Neither of these options are disposable, so decontamination after exposure is essential. Allegro makes an appropriate Respirator Cleaning Kit that will not harm silicon or rubber face seals. The 3M 2091, 3M 2097, or the 3M 7093 filters are all appropriate and will all need to be discarded after exposure.
Because of the level of danger presented by the Ebola virus it's imperative the respirator filters meet HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) standards. HEPA filters like the 3M 2091 P100 Particulate Filters will stop everything down to .3 microns 99.99% of the time with a properly fitted mask. This is the best lung protection you can get without resorting to an SCBA or an ambient air pump.
If a half-face mask is chosen, goggles are essential as part of the personal protective equipment (ppe). The mucous membrane of the eye is a likely candidate for Ebola virus transmission so the better the seal of goggles against the face, the greater the level of protection. Models like the Pyramex G704T are designed for chemical splash, and fit close to the face. They are typically the goggle we recommend against exposure to lead and asbestos, and would be a good choice for this type of emergency because of their anti-fog characteristics.
DuPont makes many different grades of protective outerwear. The number of searches for our DuPont HazMat Training Suit are though the roof this week. But this suit is strictly for training purposes, and won't help in a real emergency. The Level A HazMat Suit they are likely looking for is over $1000 and is impractical in the extreme since it requires a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to be worn underneath (which will only supply air for about 25 minutes) and a complete decontamination station after exposure or threat of exposure.
A more workable solution (still cumbersome, hot, and uncomfortable) for those who have to be in contact with people infected by Ebola virus disease (EVD) are the DuPont Tychem QC127T or QC122T Coveralls (For availability, call 1-800-829-9580). These are basically Tyvek suits with a polyethylene coating. They have taped seams to guard against liquid incursion which is mission-critical for Ebola virus protection.
This DuPont video about donning and doffing the protective coveralls is helpful in understanding correct procedure in keeping contamination away from the body after exposure has occurred.
The Tychem suits are typically paired with liquid-resistant gloves such as the Ansell 37-155 15 mil. Gloves which can be pulled up over the wrists of the suit to provide complete coverage for hands and the gap between the suit and the gloves. These nitrile gloves are thicker than some other options and are the right choice for decontamination work where abrasion from scrubbing may breach the fabric of thinner gloves. For more delicate work, another disposable glove option is the MicroFlex Nitron One NO123 Gloves which come 100 gloves to a box and provide chemical and liquid protection. These gloves feature increased puncture resistance (compared with latex) and have a textured palm and fingers to help grip objects.
These are the best, most realistic options available for protection against pandemic threats currently available. If you have questions about Ebola protective clothing, we can't wait to hear them.
Thanks for reading.
Photo credit - Tommy Trenchard for NPR