Medical Devices

About Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

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Q. What is personal protective equipment?

A. Personal protective equipment is any type of specialized clothing, eye shield or facial barrier that is used to protect the wearer from serious injuries or illnesses.

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Q. How does personal protective equipment help prevent the spread of infection?

A. Personal protective equipment acts as a barrier between infectious materials and your skin, mouth, nose, or eyes (mucous membranes).

The barrier has the potential to block the spread of infection from blood, body fluids, or respiratory secretions.

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Q. Will personal protective equipment protect against flu (influenza)?

A. All personal protective equipment cleared by FDA must meet specific performance standards for protection. These standards vary depending on the specific type of equipment. The information that FDA uses for the evaluation and clearance of personal protective equipment does not include performance against a specific influenza virus. Thus neither FDA, nor a manufacturer, knows to what extent PPE will protect you against influenza. Keep in mind that other infection control practices, such as hand-washing, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, isolating sick patients, and using appropriate coughing etiquette, are also important to minimize your risk of infection.

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Q. Should I use personal protective equipment to help protect against infection when caring for a sick person at home?

A. The use of PPE alone will not fully protect you from acquiring an infection. Other infection control practices, such as hand-washing, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, isolating of patients and using appropriate coughing etiquette, are also important to minimize your risk of infection.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), is responsible for making specific recommendations for infection control measures in different circumstances. These recommendations may include the use of PPE as part of a broader set of actions. For more information about CDC’s recommendations for controlling the spread of the flu, see What You Should Know about the Flu.

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Q. Where can I buy personal protective equipment?

A. You do not need a prescription to buy most types of personal protective equipment. You can buy personal protective equipment from pharmacies, from medical suppliers, or from sources you find on the Internet.

For more information about buying medical products on the Internet, see FDA’s website on Protecting Yourself.

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Q. Can I reuse personal protective equipment?

A. Most personal protective equipment is designed to be used one time. It is not intended to be used over and over. There are a few exceptions (for example some types of protective eyewear).

It is important to understand that if you are exposed to infectious material while wearing personal protective equipment, your PPE should be considered contaminated. Remove it promptly and dispose of it properly. Improper removal, reuse or improper disposal of contaminated PPE may increase your risk of infection.

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Q. Can I wash disposable personal protective equipment?

A. No. You cannot wash disposable personal protective equipment. Washing personal protective equipment changes its protective or barrier properties, and it may no longer be effective.

It is important to understand that if you are exposed to infectious material while wearing personal protective equipment, your PPE should be considered contaminated. Remove it promptly and dispose of it properly. Improper removal, reuse or improper disposal of contaminated PPE may increase your risk of infection.

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Q. Can I share personal protective equipment with other users?

A.No. You should not share personal protective equipment. Most PPE is not intended to be used over and over. The protective capabilites of a PPE cannot be assured when it is reused by either yourself or another person. Perhaps more importantly, by sharing, you may inadvertently be exposing another person to infectious material. PPE should be removed promptly after use and disposed of properly. Improper removal, reuse or improper disposal of contaminated PPE may increase your risk of infection.

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Page Last Updated: 06/04/2014
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