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Infectious Diseases

20 April 2020

Scientists design protective respirator for health care workers

A multidisciplinary team has created 3D-printed parts to modify the surgical helmet – which uses room air – into a powered air-purifying respirator that uses filtered air.

With protective gear in short supply, Duke University researchers say they've designed a much-needed respirator for healthcare workers battling Covid-19.

The respirator was created by a medical and engineering team at the university and is being used by Duke Health doctors treating patients with suspected cases of Covid-19.

The idea for the protective respirator came from orthopaedic spine surgeon Dr Melissa Erickson.

"We have these helmets that we wear during arthroplasty surgery [joint repairs] and we started to wonder, 'Can these be repurposed?'" Erikson said in a Duke news release.

Highest level of protection

Under Erickson's guidance, a multidisciplinary team created 3D-printed parts to modify the surgical helmet – which uses room air – into a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) that uses filtered air.

Eric Richardson is an associate professor of the practice in biomedical engineering at Duke. "Basically, [a PAPR] is the highest level of protection we can offer our providers, particularly those that are intubating patients," he said.

Erickson said, "The whole nation is undergoing a PPE (personal protective equipment) shortage, and our goal is to take care of our patients, take care of our communities and also take care of our healthcare workers. And what we started realising is there is a limited number of PAPRs."

So, Richardson said, "if there's national shortages on PPE and PAPRs, maybe we can use things that we have plenty of in the hospital and do modifications to be able to increase the number of protective personal equipment that we have to provide for healthcare workers."

More than a dozen of the protective respirators have been made for Duke Health and the team will continue to produce them for the health system.

The task force has made the design available for others to 3D print the parts needed to create their own protective respirators.

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