Breathing easier: Johns Hopkins students develop improvements for Ebola protection suit
For health workers in the field treating people stricken with Ebola and other diseases, a protective suit is the first defense against infection. The suit and head covering itself, however, can hamper the ability to help by impeding breathing, or heating up so quickly in high temperatures and humidity that workers can scarcely wear the suits for more than an hour.
Johns Hopkins University engineering students and team members hope to solve these problems as they improve a protective suit to be manufactured by DuPont under an agreement forged between the university and the international science and engineering company. Two Johns Hopkins mechanical engineering undergraduate teams, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, or CBID, have developed prototypes for a more comfortable hood and face mask that make breathing easier, and for a battery-powered system that curbs humidity in the suit.
DuPont has licensed intellectual property for a coverall, hood, and full body suit designed and prototyped by CBID last year. Each product reduces the number of pieces required by current protocols, takes much less time to put on and remove, and cuts the number of potential contamination exposure points by nearly a third. The two recent projects by seniors at Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering are meant to improve the CBID designs even further.
“The hope for us is this could be used for any infectious disease that’s transmitted through bodily fluids,” said Laura Scavo, who graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering and worked on the hood as a final project. Under a grant, she is continuing to work with the CBID team this summer.
“The aim of our device is to extend the working time of health care workers in an Ebola Treatment Unit by increasing thermal comfort, and thus decreasing the risk of heat-induced psychological and physiological impairments,” the students who worked on the cooling system wrote in their final report.