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PPE units can make wearers sick

Personal protective equipment (PPE) required in operating rooms and intensive care units can make wearers sick, a small study confirms.

The findings help explain reports by clinicians of difficulty breathing, headache, and mental impairment while wearing the full protective suit that includes high quality mask, face shield and gloves, researchers said.

Among the eight surgeons who volunteered for the study, PPE impaired breathing, resulting in high blood levels of carbon dioxide and low levels of oxygen.

“Air re-breathed within the PPE mask after two hours was found to contain almost 8% carbon dioxide – 260-fold more than atmospheric levels (0.03%),” said Dr. Wyn Lewis of University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

The changes were significantly greater than those seen with standard operating room garments, his team reported on Saturday in the British Journal of Surgery, and can cause fluctuations in brain blood flow, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea, mental impairment, fatigue, and headache.

Three of the surgeons experienced headaches related to altered blood flow in a major brain artery. “These findings were observed in young, fit, doctors, posing the question of what might emerge in mature professionals with co-existing medical issues, or anyone working beyond this study’s two-hour limit,” Lewis said.

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