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Use of personal protective equipment during infectious disease outbreak and nonoutbreak conditions: a survey of emergency medical technicians

  • Laura M. Visentin (a1), Susan J. Bondy (a1), Brian Schwartz (a2) (a3) and Laurie J. Morrison (a4) (a5)



We sought to assess the knowledge of, use of and barriers to the use of personal protective equipment for airway management among emergency medical technicians (EMTs) during and since the 2003 Canadian outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).


Using a cross-sectional survey, EMTs in Toronto, Ont., were surveyed 1 year after the SARS outbreak during mandatory training on the use of personal protective equipment in airway management during the outbreak and just before taking the survey. Practices that were addressed reflected government directives on the use of this equipment. Main outcome measures included the frequency of personal protective equipment use and, as applicable, why particular items were not always used.


The response rate was 67.3% (n = 230). During the SARS outbreak, an N95-type particulate respirator was reported to be always used by 91.5% of respondents. Conversely, 72.9% of the respondents reported that they never used the open face hood. Equipment availability and vision impairment were often cited as impediments to personal protective equipment use. In nonoutbreak conditions, only the antimicrobial airway filter was most often reported to be always used (52.0%), while other items were used at an intermediate frequency. The most common reason for not always donning equipment was that paramedics deemed it unnecessary for the situation.


Personal protective equipment is not consistently employed as per medical directives. Reasons given for nonuse included nonavailability, judgment of nonnecessity or technical difficulties. There are important public health implications of noncompliance.


Corresponding author

Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Health Science Building, 155 College St.Toronto ON M5T 3M7;


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