J Occup Environ Hyg. 2021 Aug 12:1-6. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2021.1949459. Online ahead of print.
Personal protective equipment used by healthcare workers to mitigate disease transmission risks while caring for patients with high-consequence infectious diseases can impair normal body cooling mechanisms and exacerbate physiological strain. Symptoms of heat strain (e.g., cognitive impairment, confusion, muscle cramping) are especially harmful in the high-risk environment of high-consequence infectious disease care. In this pilot study, the core body temperatures of healthcare workers were assessed using an ingestible, wireless-transmission thermometer while performing patient care tasks common to a high-level isolation unit setting in powered air purifying respirator (PAPR)-level. The objective was to determine the potential for occupational health hazard due to heat stress in an environmentally controlled unit. Maximum core temperatures of the six participants ranged from 37.4 °C (99.3 °F) to 39.9 °C (103.8 during the 4-hr shift; core temperatures of half (n = 3) of the participants exceeded 38.5 °C (101.3 °F), the upper core temperature limit. Future investigations are needed to identify other heat stress risks both in and outside of controlled units. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic offers unique opportunities for field-based research on risks of heat stress related to personal protective equipment in healthcare workers that can lead to both short- and long-term innovations in this field.