Scientists create cooling system for outbreak responders' protective suits

Researchers at Stanford (Calif.) University are developing a cooling system to better regulate body temperature for healthcare teams working long hours in protective suits during infectious disease outbreaks, according to

Healthcare workers in Sierra Leone experienced debilitating heat while wearing their protective gear during an Ebola outbreak. Craig Heller, PhD, professor of biology in Stanford's School of Humanities and Sciences, said workers wearing the protective gear could only work for 20-30 minutes before overheating. Overheating can put healthcare teams at greater risk for heat stroke and limit their mental and physical capabilities to care for patients and protect themselves.

Stanford researchers created a cooling system to wear with the protective suits that functions similar to a hydration backpack used by some runners or bikers. The backpack contains one vessel with frozen water, and tubes that deliver the cooling fluids through pads on the underside of fingerless gloves. The cooling pack was designed based on previous research that most body heat is released through the palms, soles of feet and face.

For the first round of testing, Stanford undergraduates ran on treadmills wearing a the protective suits with or without the cooling pack. Students wearing the cooling pack were able to run on the treadmill for twice as long as those not wearing the pack. Based on this research, the Stanford team is working on a prototype of the cooling system that could easily be mass produced.

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