Personal protective equipment (PPE) is special equipment you wear to create a barrier between you and germs. This barrier reduces the chance of touching, being exposed to, and spreading germs.
PPE helps prevent the spread of germs in the hospital. This can protect patients and health care workers from infections.
All hospital staff, patients, and visitors should use PPE when there will be contact with blood or other bodily fluids.
Types of PPE
Wearing glovesprotects your hands from germs and helps reduce the spread of germs.
Masks cover your mouth and nose.
Some masks have a see-through plastic part that covers your eyes.
A surgical mask helps stop germs in your nose and mouth from spreading. It can also keep you from breathing in some germs.
A special respiratory masks (respirator) forms a tight seal around your nose and mouth. It may be needed so that you do not breathe in small germs like tuberculosis bacteria.
Eye protection includes face shields and goggles. These protect the mucous membranes in your eyes from blood and other bodily fluids. If these fluids make contact with the eyes, germs in the fluid can enter the body through the mucous membranes.
Clothing includes gowns, aprons, head covering, and shoe covers.
These are often used during surgery to protect you and the patient.
They are also used during surgery to protect you when you work with bodily fluids.
Visitors wear gowns if they are visiting a patient who is in isolation due to an illness that can be easily spread.
You may need special PPE when handling some cancer drugs. This equipment is called cytotoxic PPE.
You may need to wear a gown with long sleeves and elastic cuffs. This gown should not allow liquids to make contact with the skin.
You may also need to wear shoe covers, goggles, and special gloves.
Choose the Right PPE
You may need to use different PPE for different patients. Your workplace has written instructions about when to wear PPE and what type of PPE to use. You need PPE when you care for patients who are in isolation as well as other patients.
Ask your supervisor how you can learn more about protective equipment.
After You Use PPE
Remove and dispose of PPE safely to protect others from being exposed to germs. Before leaving your work area, remove all PPE and put it in the right place. This may include:
Special laundry containers that can be reused after cleaning
Special waste containers that are different from other waste containers
Specially marked bags for cytotoxic PPE
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Personal protective equipment. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ppe. Accessed February 20, 2014.
Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.