Personal protective equipment for preventing highly infectious diseases due to exposure to contaminated body fluids in healthcare staff

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020 May 15;5(5):CD011621. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011621.pub5.


Background: In epidemics of highly infectious diseases, such as Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), or coronavirus (COVID-19), healthcare workers (HCW) are at much greater risk of infection than the general population, due to their contact with patients' contaminated body fluids. Personal protective equipment (PPE) can reduce the risk by covering exposed body parts. It is unclear which type of PPE protects best, what is the best way to put PPE on (i.e. donning) or to remove PPE (i.e. doffing), and how to train HCWs to use PPE as instructed.

Objectives: To evaluate which type of full-body PPE and which method of donning or doffing PPE have the least risk of contamination or infection for HCW, and which training methods increase compliance with PPE protocols.

Search methods: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase and CINAHL to 20 March 2020.

Selection criteria: We included all controlled studies that evaluated the effect of full-body PPE used by HCW exposed to highly infectious diseases, on the risk of infection, contamination, or noncompliance with protocols. We also included studies that compared the effect of various ways of donning or doffing PPE, and the effects of training on the same outcomes.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected studies, extracted data and assessed the risk of bias in included trials. We conducted random-effects meta-analyses were appropriate.

Main results: Earlier versions of this review were published in 2016 and 2019. In this update, we included 24 studies with 2278 participants, of which 14 were randomised controlled trials (RCT), one was a quasi-RCT and nine had a non-randomised design. Eight studies compared types of PPE. Six studies evaluated adapted PPE. Eight studies compared donning and doffing processes and three studies evaluated types of training. Eighteen studies used simulated exposure with fluorescent markers or harmless microbes. In simulation studies, median contamination rates were 25% for the intervention and 67% for the control groups. Evidence for all outcomes is of very low certainty unless otherwise stated because it is based on one or two studies, the indirectness of the evidence in simulation studies and because of risk of bias. Types of PPE The use of a powered, air-purifying respirator with coverall may protect against the risk of contamination better than a N95 mask and gown (risk ratio (RR) 0.27, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.17 to 0.43) but was more difficult to don (non-compliance: RR 7.5, 95% CI 1.81 to 31.1). In one RCT (59 participants) coveralls were more difficult to doff than isolation gowns (very low-certainty evidence). Gowns may protect better against contamination than aprons (small patches: mean difference (MD) -10.28, 95% CI -14.77 to -5.79). PPE made of more breathable material may lead to a similar number of spots on the trunk (MD 1.60, 95% CI -0.15 to 3.35) compared to more water-repellent material but may have greater user satisfaction (MD -0.46, 95% CI -0.84 to -0.08, scale of 1 to 5). According to three studies that tested more recently introduced full-body PPE ensembles, there may be no difference in contamination. Modified PPE versus standard PPE The following modifications to PPE design may lead to less contamination compared to standard PPE: sealed gown and glove combination (RR 0.27, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.78), a better fitting gown around the neck, wrists and hands (RR 0.08, 95% CI 0.01 to 0.55), a better cover of the gown-wrist interface (RR 0.45, 95% CI 0.26 to 0.78, low-certainty evidence), added tabs to grab to facilitate doffing of masks (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.14 to 0.80) or gloves (RR 0.22, 95% CI 0.15 to 0.31). Donning and doffing Using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for doffing may lead to less contamination compared to no guidance (small patches: MD -5.44, 95% CI -7.43 to -3.45). One-step removal of gloves and gown may lead to less bacterial contamination (RR 0.20, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.77) but not to less fluorescent contamination (RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.75 to 1.28) than separate removal. Double-gloving may lead to less viral or bacterial contamination compared to single gloving (RR 0.34, 95% CI 0.17 to 0.66) but not to less fluorescent contamination (RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.75 to 1.28). Additional spoken instruction may lead to fewer errors in doffing (MD -0.9, 95% CI -1.4 to -0.4) and to fewer contamination spots (MD -5, 95% CI -8.08 to -1.92). Extra sanitation of gloves before doffing with quaternary ammonium or bleach may decrease contamination, but not alcohol-based hand rub. Training The use of additional computer simulation may lead to fewer errors in doffing (MD -1.2, 95% CI -1.6 to -0.7). A video lecture on donning PPE may lead to better skills scores (MD 30.70, 95% CI 20.14 to 41.26) than a traditional lecture. Face-to-face instruction may reduce noncompliance with doffing guidance more (odds ratio 0.45, 95% CI 0.21 to 0.98) than providing folders or videos only.

Authors' conclusions: We found low- to very low-certainty evidence that covering more parts of the body leads to better protection but usually comes at the cost of more difficult donning or doffing and less user comfort. More breathable types of PPE may lead to similar contamination but may have greater user satisfaction. Modifications to PPE design, such as tabs to grab, may decrease the risk of contamination. For donning and doffing procedures, following CDC doffing guidance, a one-step glove and gown removal, double-gloving, spoken instructions during doffing, and using glove disinfection may reduce contamination and increase compliance. Face-to-face training in PPE use may reduce errors more than folder-based training. We still need RCTs of training with long-term follow-up. We need simulation studies with more participants to find out which combinations of PPE and which doffing procedure protects best. Consensus on simulation of exposure and assessment of outcome is urgently needed. We also need more real-life evidence. Therefore, the use of PPE of HCW exposed to highly infectious diseases should be registered and the HCW should be prospectively followed for their risk of infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • Body Fluids
  • COVID-19
  • Computer Simulation
  • Coronavirus Infections* / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections* / prevention & control
  • Coronavirus Infections* / transmission
  • Gloves, Protective
  • Health Personnel
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola* / prevention & control
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola* / transmission
  • Humans
  • Infection Control* / methods
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Patient-to-Professional / prevention & control*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pandemics* / prevention & control
  • Personal Protective Equipment*
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / prevention & control
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / transmission
  • Protective Clothing
  • Respiratory Protective Devices
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome* / prevention & control
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome* / transmission