The importance of disposable PPE in preventing cross-contamination

20 October 2023
L'importance des EPI jetables contre la contamination croisée

We are familiar with personal protective equipment (PPE) for its crucial role in safety and health. However, it is equally important to grasp the significance of disposable PPE compared to reusable ones. Indeed, disposable PPE stands out for its high level of hygiene, providing effective protection against cross-contamination. In this article, we will elaborate on this particular feature.

Some definitions: Disposable PPE, nosocomial infections, cross-contamination.

To better understand, let’s start by defining what personal protective equipment (PPE) is. It’s equipment that workers wear or use to ensure their safety and health. There are two types of PPE: reusable and disposable. As the names suggest, reusable PPE can be used multiple times after regular cleaning, while disposable PPE is designed for single-use and then discarded.

To grasp the term “cross-contamination,” it can be helpful to discuss nosocomial infections. Nosocomial infections are infections contracted in the hospital, which were not present at the time of the patient’s admission. They can take various forms, including urinary or pulmonary tract infections. Cross-contamination is one of the causes of these infections, whether they originate from germs present in the patient themselves (endogenous) or from external contamination, whether it’s from other patients, medical staff, or the hospital environment (exogenous).

The figures in Belgium

In Belgium, it is estimated that the prevalence of infected individuals in hospitals is approximately 103,000 per year, with an incidence rate of about 6.2%. These figures are quite similar in neighboring countries. Special attention should be given to intensive care units and neonatal intensive care units (source: KCE).

But how do disposable PPE items help in combating cross-contamination?

Disposable PPE, when used for patient care, are meant for single-use only, with one patient and one procedure. This means that if they contain pathogens such as viruses or bacteria, they are discarded after use, thus eliminating any risk of spreading to other patients or environments. Disposable PPE acts as a protective barrier, preventing any potential contact with pathogens.

For example, disposable examination sheets are changed after each patient’s use, preventing any contamination of the examination table, which safeguards the health of other individuals and maintains a high level of environmental hygiene.

L'importance des EPI jetables contre la contamination croisée

Disposable PPE is found in various industries

While this blog article focuses on the healthcare industry, it’s essential to note that disposable PPE holds significance in various sectors.

Indeed, the use of disposable PPE extends far beyond the healthcare sector, encompassing areas such as the food industry, laboratories, beauty establishments, cleaning services, the construction sector, as well as other healthcare facilities like nursing homes and clinics.

Choosing disposable PPE based on the risk

It’s important to note that not all PPE is used systematically for every procedure; its usage depends on the level of risk. Medical staff may be equipped with disposable gowns, disposable gloves, hairnets, protective masks (such as FFP2 or IIR), as well as face shields, depending on the level of contamination risk they are exposed to.

For instance, in a laboratory setting, disposable PPE prevents sample contamination during analysis, and in the food industry, it helps prevent contamination of food products.

Hygiene Preventive Measures

However, it is important to note that disposable PPE, such as gloves or gowns, does not ensure complete protection. Other crucial measures such as hand washing and the use of alcohol-based sanitizers should not be overlooked. Additionally, there are other preventive practices that should not be replaced by wearing PPE, such as equipment disinfection.

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In conclusion, disposable PPE should be considered as part of an overall strategy to maintain hygiene within healthcare facilities, thus preventing contamination and safeguarding medical personnel, patients, and even visitors.