Tyvek® Protective Apparel and the Ebola Epidemic

Tyvek® Rx: December 2015

Dec15_Tyvek_Rx_image_690x345_A01

DuPont™ Tyvek® protective apparel has served on the front lines of countless global crises in recent years—from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Fukashima Daiichi nuclear disaster to containment efforts for the Avian Flu and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). But to date, there has been no greater test of the product than the Ebola virus epidemic of 2014.

The epidemic began in the West African country of Guinea in December 2013 and spread to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone, with smaller outbreaks occurring in Nigeria, Mali and Senegal. Recent data offers a grim tally of the epidemic’s human cost: nearly 30,000 developed the disease and more than 11,000 died from it.

From the areas where the tragedy played out—clinics in rural villages, the wards of urban hospitals and in tents, morgues and mass gravesites—an indelible image of the “helpers” emerged: crisis workers from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), humanitarian organizations and the affected localities wearing boots, goggles and thick rubber gloves, all clad in white DuPont™ Tyvek® protective apparel.  

“When everyone else is running away in fear, we stay to help, to offer healing and hope. Through the protection of Tyvek® suits and two pairs of gloves, we were able to hold the hands of people as they died, to offer dignity in the face of humiliating circumstances,” said Dr. Kent Brantly, medical missionary to Liberia and an Ebola survivor.

Wearing Tyvek® protective apparel protected countless workers from infection; permitted safer transport of the sick and the dead; and allowed doctors to care for the stricken without fear that they might become Ebola’s next victims.

In the midst of the epidemic, via daily contact with first-line responders, the DuPont Protection Technologies product team gathered feedback for on-the-fly product development to better meet the needs of those working in the “hot zone.” The team processed requests from medical workers for head-to-toe garments with taped seams, and requests from workers involved in hospital construction, emergency transport and burials for more breathable, sewn-seam coveralls. They also worked to devise thumb loops and zipper pulls to make donning and doffing the garments much easier in high-risk environments.

Although Liberia and Sierra Leone have been declared Ebola-free (in May 2015 and November 2015, respectively), a new case was just reported in Guinea in early November. Undoubtedly, there will be additional Ebola epidemics and other deadly infectious disease outbreaks in the future. To prepare for the next crisis, DuPont Protection Technologies has begun working in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University to produce an improved Ebola protection suit. 

In September 2015, DuPont announced that it had joined forces with the Johns Hopkins University to commercialize a garment with innovative features to help protect people on the front lines of future deadly infectious disease outbreaks. DuPont intends to have the first of these garments available in the marketplace during the first half of 2016.