Protective suit keeps aid workers cool in the fight against Ebola

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An advanced protective suit developed at Johns Hopkins University is one of five awardees in a federal funding contest aimed at devising new tools to combat Ebola.

The Johns Hopkins University prototype is designed to do a better job than current garments in keeping health care workers from coming in contact with Ebola patients’ contagious body fluids, both during treatment and while removing a soiled suit. In addition, it is expected to keep the wearer cooler.

The first projects selected for the federal funding were announced on December 12 by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through its new program, launched in October, called Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development.

The improved protective suit is being developed by a team of engineers, medical experts, students and other volunteers under the supervision of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID) and Jhpiego, a non-profit Johns Hopkins affiliate that focuses on international health programs.

‘If ever there was a public health crisis that merits the finest science, medicine and innovation the world has to offer, it is this one,’ Leslie Mancuso, Jhpiego president and CEO said in a statement. ‘The personal protection suit we are developing with our partners at the Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design is purposefully designed to address safety and climate issues now putting health workers at risk.’

Some of these enhancements include a large clear visor in the hood, which is integrated into the suit; air vents in the hood; a rear zipper to reduce infection risks while removing the garment; a cocoon-style doffing process that requires far fewer steps than existing garments; and a small battery-powered, dry air source to cool the user by blowing air into the hood.

The cooling technology used in the garment was originally developed for cooling patients in cardiac arrest by Johns Hopkins cardiologist Harikrishna Tandri.

With the basic improvements identified, a small group of core of team members, supervised by CBID and Jhpiego, will proceed to fine-tune the prototype protective suit, with a goal of getting some elements of the design ready for mass production perhaps as early as April 2015.