The use of spit guards (also known as spit hoods) by police services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland: to prevent transmission of infection or another form of restraint?

J Forensic Leg Med. 2019 Aug;66:147-154. doi: 10.1016/j.jflm.2019.07.003. Epub 2019 Jul 11.


Spit guards, also known as spit hoods or spit masks (and occasionally bite guards) are devices intended to cover the mouth, face and sometimes the head of a restrained person in order to prevent them spitting at, or biting others. There is substantial controversy about their use with views often polarised between civil and human rights campaigners who express concerns about their utility, their safety, and their possible encroachment on human rights, and in contrast by (predominantly) law enforcement campaigners highlighting concerns about the possible risks of transmission of infection and subsequent need for prophylaxis by law enforcement professionals exposed to biological fluids. This study explored the extent to which police services deploy spit guards and the rationale underpinning their use. A mixed qualitative and quantitative approach was used to analyse data obtained from police services under the Freedom of Information Act. This study shows there is paucity of information readily available from police services in respect of quantifying the numbers of police officers who have contracted infectious disease as a result of spitting and/or bites, despite the fact that risk of infection and the need for subsequent prophylaxis is a driver of police services adopting the use of spit guard devices. Consideration must be afforded to the possibility that the use of spit guards represents a form of mechanical restraint rather than a means to prevent transmission of infection, especially given the paucity of information available from police services in respect of officers who have contracted infectious disease as a result of spiting and/or bites.

Keywords: Detention; Human rights; Restraint; Spit guards; Spit hoods; Spit masks; Transmission of infection.

MeSH terms

  • Bites, Human / prevention & control
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / prevention & control*
  • England
  • Humans
  • Northern Ireland
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Personal Protective Equipment*
  • Police*
  • Saliva
  • Wales