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Veterinary use of personal protective equipment and disinfectants

Warning: Hendra virus (HeV) infection of humans is rare, but it is a serious disease that can be fatal. Infection has occurred from high levels of exposure to the respiratory secretions and/or blood from horses infected with HeV (both live horses and dead horses at necropsy examination). Great care is needed to ensure the personal safety of the veterinarian and others who may be involved.

Learn more about precautions to take when Hendra virus is suspected.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is intended to form a barrier between the person and the infectious agent. It may include:

  • rubber boots
  • splash-proof overalls (long sleeves with a hood) or cotton or disposable overalls with impervious or splash-proof apron
  • disposable impermeable gloves (nitrile gloves recommended), double-gloved
  • face shield or safety eyewear (to protect against facial splashing)
  • a particulate respirator.

PPE responsibilities of veterinarians

Work health and safety legislation requires a person conducting a business or undertaking to ensure that PPE provided to workers is:

  • suitable for the work and any hazard associated with the work
  • the right size and fit and reasonably comfortable.

The PPE must be maintained, repaired or replaced so that it continues to minimise risk. This includes ensuring that it's clean and hygienic, and in good working order. You should also ensure, as far as is reasonably practical, that the PPE is used or worn by the worker or any other person at the workplace.

To provide the best protection possible, combine PPE with other measures, such as vaccinating horses, HeV planning and preparedness, infection control practices and managing exposure to HeV risks.

Source PPE ahead of time and arrange training in its correct use, storage and maintenance.

If there's a higher level of risk, or a horse is known to be infected with HeV, increase the standard of PPE accordingly.

Using PPE

Always have adequate PPE available at all places where horses are examined. PPE supplies for repeat visits and for those assisting should be available.

Always remove PPE carefully to avoid contamination and perform hand hygiene during and after removing PPE. Decontaminate reusable PPE after use and don't reuse disposable PPE.

The Australian Veterinary Association has produced an online video, Suit-up, about PPE, including correct donning and doffing.

Buying PPE

Discuss your specific safety needs with a supplier of safety equipment to get expert advice and be provided with a selection of products appropriate for individual situations. Alternatively, you can obtain PPE from safety supply stores and most hardware stores.

Heat stress and PPE

We recommend splash-proof PPE rather than impervious PPE. Splash-proof items are usually lighter and better suited to hotter conditions. Impervious (waterproof) PPE, particularly impervious overalls or suits, need to be used with great care as there's a real risk of rapidly overheating, particularly if used in direct sunlight.

Using PPE can create significant heat stress issues. The risk of heat stress should be managed where possible, for example by:

  • drinking enough fluids before and during work
  • scheduling work times to avoid the hottest part of the day
  • using cool clothing and cooling scarves and vests
  • using portable shade
  • taking frequent rest breaks in cool areas
  • rotating teams or use a buddy system,
  • knowing the signs of heat stress and stopping work if these signs start to develop.

Respiratory protective equipment

Discuss your specific respiratory protective equipment (RPE) needs with a supplier of safety equipment to get expert advice and products appropriate for individual situations.

A P2 disposable facepiece respirator, or a P2 filter in a half-facepiece respirator, is the minimum level of respiratory protection for investigating potential HeV situations where contact with respiratory secretions or aerosols is likely or possible. For a higher level of protection you can use a P2 or P3 filter in a full-facepiece respirator, or a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR).

Note: A standard surgical face mask is not a respirator and won't provide respiratory protection because it doesn't have adequate filtering and/or fitting properties. Don't wear a surgical mask or a dust mask for suspected or confirmed HeV cases as these won't filter bio-aerosols or provide an adequate facial seal.

Training in the use of PPE

Work health and safety legislation requires you to provide workers with information, training and instruction in PPE.

We recommend that you consult a commercial provider about PPE training. Training should include:

  • correct donning and doffing procedures (putting on and taking off PPE)
  • respirator fit checking
  • correct storage, maintenance, cleaning, disinfection and disposal of PPE.

We also recommend that you keep records of PPE training and results of fit testing.

Disinfectants

Specific testing of disinfectant compounds against HeV has not been conducted.

The AUSVETPLAN decontamination manual notes that HeV is a member of Category A viruses. This category of viruses contains a lipid envelope.

The following disinfectants are known to be effective against category A viruses:

  • soaps and detergents
  • Virkon®
  • hypochlorites
  • iodophors/iodine
  • biguanidines (e.g. chlorhexidine)
  • quaternary ammonium compounds.

Others are named in AUSVETPLAN but these require special precautions for their safe use.

Any disinfectants that are hazardous chemicals must be used in accordance with the hazardous chemicals provisions of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.