Containing Ebola

Posted on 8 Sep 2014 by Tim Brown

The vital role of contained air solutions in medical care and research

Contained air products make it possible for the safe undertaking of many important tasks including medical research and treatment of diseases such as Ebola.
Contained air products make it possible for the safe undertaking of many important tasks including medical research and treatment of diseases such as Ebola - image courtesy of DFC.

Contained air solutions help to protect both people and materials from contamination, and they play a vital role in a range of environments, including medical care and research centres.

Indeed, without contained air products, many of the tasks performed in such environments would prove impossible. The risks of worker infection and associated problems would simply be too great.

Ebola outbreak

The spread of Ebola in West Africa has highlighted the importance of effective contamination control. The outbreak began in Guinea late last year, but it was not detected until March 2014. Since then, it has spread to a number of other nations, including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Initially transmitted to people from wild animals such as fruit bats and forest antelope, the disease can quickly spread through the human population and it has a fatality rate of up to 90%. Individuals are at risk of contracting the virus if they have direct contact through broken skin or mucous membranes with the blood secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected patients. Indirect contact with contaminated environments can also cause infection.

Developing treatments

The scale of the current outbreak, which has been described by the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres as “unprecedented”, has drawn attention to the need for effective treatments and vaccines to help cure patients and prevent the spread of the virus. Indeed, Johnson & Johnson recently announced it was accelerating the development of a vaccine regime against Ebola. The firm hopes to begin human trials early next year. Commenting on the plan to hasten its research timetable, the firm’s chief scientific officer and worldwide chair Dr Paul Stoffels said: “The decision to accelerate the programme is based on the fact that it is such a catastrophic situation in West Africa.”

When new drugs and vaccinations are being developed in labs, the strictest standards of hygiene and contamination control are vital, and clean air solutions play an integral role in achieving this.

Isolation units

Meanwhile, these systems can also be used in the treatment of patients. For example, the Royal Free Hospital in London contains a specialist Ebola isolation unit that uses clean air filtration technology. British nurse William Pooley was the first patient to use the unit. The 29-year-old was flown back from Sierra Leone to the UK after contracting the virus.

During his stay at the unit, Mr Pooley was given supportive care and he was treated with the experimental drug ZMapp. Thanks to the isolation system surrounding him, all of this medical attention could be provided without risk to doctors and nurses.

Choosing the right contained air solutions

Of course, the type of contained air solutions that medical care and research specialists need depends on the nature of the tasks they are completing. There are now many different products available to organisations. For example, microbiological safety cabinets can be highly effective in lab environments. These products are available in three different classes, and the greatest level of protection is offered by Class 3.

Systems that fall into this category provide total barrier protection for the operator and they can be used for tasks that involve extreme biohazards. The inflow air is HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtered before entering the cabinets via a side mounted inlet chamber. Exhaust air is also filtered before it exits the cabinets via either single or double HEPA filters. Work carried out in these cabinets is done using mechanically attached gloves to ensure a complete seal.

For the best results, bespoke solutions can be created. For example, providers such as Contained Air Solutions offer systems that are adapted to meet the specific criteria set out by organisations.