The website developed by researchers at the University of São Paulo includes videos, illustrations, texts and posters with information on the right way to put on and take off masks, gloves, gowns and other items (image: EPISaúde)
Published on 03/19/2021
By André Julião | Agência FAPESP – Researchers at the University of São Paulo’s Biomedical Sciences Institute (ICB-USP) in Brazil have developed a platform to offer health workers guidance on the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
The public face of the platform is a website with videos, illustrations and texts, as well as how-to posters that can be printed and displayed in hospitals with instructions on the proper way to put on and take off face coverings, gloves, gowns and other items. A smartphone app is being produced to deliver the same information.
EPISaúde (EPI is Portuguese for PPE; Saúde means health) was inspired by experience obtained in the Klaus Eberhard Stewien Biosafety Level 3+ Laboratory at ICB-USP’s Department of Microbiology. Biocontainment facility safety levels range from BSL-1 to BSL-4. Built in 2003, it was Brazil’s first BSL-3+ facility and was funded by FAPESP as part of the “Viral Genetic Diversity Network (VGDN)” project coordinated by Professor Edison Luiz Durigon.
The initiative is led by Ana Marcia de Sá Guimarães, a professor at ICB-USP, and Tatiana Ometto, a researcher at the same institution. The group also has the support of Durigon, who led the Brazilian team that produced SARS-CoV-2 in the laboratory (read more at: agencia.fapesp.br/32699).
The texts and videos were produced with the collaboration of ICB-USP graduate students, including Kerstin Muner, who has a master’s fellowship from FAPESP, and Alexandre Campos Banari, who has a doctoral fellowship from FAPESP. Felipe Silva, a master’s student at the University of São Paulo’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science (FMVZ-USP), and Giovanni Emiddio Romano, a PhD student at the same institution, also collaborated.
The main research focus of all these graduate students in the BSL-3+ facility is an investigation of tuberculosis, a disease caused by an airborne pathogen (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) requiring BSL-3 containment, similar to SARS-CoV-2. Their work is supervised by Guimarães, principal investigator for the “Systems and comparative biology of Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex: effects of genetic variability on bacterial phenotype” FAPESP-funded project.
Ample experience in researching pathogens has enabled Guimarães to acquire expertise in procedures requiring a high level of biosafety and PPE use. “We have plenty of experience with containment apparel and PPE,” she said. “We know how to put on and take off face coverings, goggles and other protective equipment correctly, and we’ve been asked to train medical teams in hospitals. Currently, face-to-face training isn’t possible, so we’ve joined forces to create this online platform, which can be accessed by health workers anywhere in Brazil free of charge.”
In the first five days, the website recorded more than 91,000 visits. “This shows how urgently health workers need reliable information about PPE,” she said.
Ometto also has substantial experience in biocontainment labs, much of which was acquired during a scientific initiation project and doctoral research on viruses circulating in animals. Both projects were supported by FAPESP.
During her postdoctoral research on West Nile virus, Ometto served as an intern in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where she worked with some of the world’s deadliest viruses, such as Ebola, Marburg and Nipah.
“Brazil is well off in terms of biosafety in research labs, but we’re well aware that the day-to-day conditions in hospitals aren’t good,” Ometto said.
The platform offers a form for health workers to report on their experience during the ongoing pandemic and to point out the main problems that they face. It can be completed anonymously and is intended to contribute to the development of solutions to these problems, including shortages of face coverings and gloves in hospitals.
“What we show on the website is considered ideal, but PPE is in short supply in the current situation, and even disposable items are being reused,” Ometto said. “Scientific information is particularly important at a time of crisis.”
Ometto is considering conducting a research project in a biotech startup related to tests, the formulation of protocols and national standards for PPE.