Ventilation hoods for ICU beds protecting healthcare workers

While we may not be able to see it, whenever we speak, cough or sneeze, we expel tiny droplets, into the air. It’s in these droplets, that COVID-19 can spread and rapidly infect all who come into contact.

Healthcare workers and those working with COVID-19 infected patents are particularly at risk. In countries like Spain, infection rates of healthcare workers are as high as 15 per cent.

Lead researcher and fluid mechanics expert from the University’s Melbourne School of Engineering, Professor Jason Monty (BE (Mech&ManufEng)(Hons) 2000, PhD 2009), was first approached by Associate Professor Forbes McGain (MBBS 1996, PGDipP&CCareEcho 2009, PhD 2016), an intensive care specialist at Western Health, back in March with ideas about how healthcare workers could be better protected by individually isolating critically ill patients with COVID-19.

Working together with Western Health, university researchers designed a private ventilation hood for hospital beds to contain the droplet spread of COVID-19 and protect healthcare workers.

The transparent, movable personal ventilation hood sucks air away from the patient while creating an effective droplet containment barrier.

The device is also large enough to accommodate other medical equipment that might be attached to the patient.

“The hood helps to confine bigger droplets to a known area around the patient while smaller droplets are sucked away through an attached ventilation system and filtered out through a high-efficiency particulate air filter,” Professor Monty said.

Ventilation Hoods

Head of Mechanical Engineering from Melbourne School of Engineering, Professor Jason Monty (left extreme) and Clinical Associate Professor from the Centre for Integrated Critical Care, Forbes McGain (right extreme) testing the ventilation hood at Footscray Hospital. Image credit: Penny Stephens/ Western Health

The hood was prototyped and tested with a team of fluid dynamics researchers, in consultation with intensive care specialists, nurses and other infectious disease experts at Western Health to ensure that its application is practical, hygienic, effective and safe.

Associate Professor McGain, who is also an honorary with the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Integrated Critical Care, said that during the current pandemic, doctors, nurses and allied health professionals are working under increasing pressure and risk of cross-contamination.

“Our testing has shown that the hood allows healthcare workers to interact with their patients and get a visual sense of their condition through the clear plastic, but with a reduced risk of infection,” he said.

Western Health Chief Executive Russell Harrison said COVID-19 was putting unprecedented pressure on the healthcare system.

“It’s great that Western Health and the University of Melbourne have been able to work in partnership, and in such an agile way, to create a device to help protect healthcare staff working on the front line,” Mr Harrison said.