Although they play an important role in infection prevention and control, textile materials and personal protective equipment (PPE) used in health care settings are known to be one of the sources of crossinfection. Gowns are recommended to prevent transmission of infectious diseases in certain settings; however, laboratory and field studies have produced mixed results of their efficacy. PPE used in health care is regulated as either class I (low risk) or class II (intermediate risk) devices in the United States. Many organizations have published guidelines for the use of PPE, including isolation gowns, in health care settings. In addition, the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation published a guidance document on the selection of gowns and a classification standard on liquid barrier performance for both surgical and isolation gowns. However, there is currently no existing standard specific to isolation gowns that considers not only the barrier resistance but also a wide array of end user desired attributes. As a result, infection preventionists and purchasing agents face several difficulties in the selection process, and end users have limited or no information on the levels of protection provided by isolation gowns. Lack of knowledge about the performance of protective clothing used in health care became more apparent during the 2014 Ebola epidemic. This article reviews laboratory studies, regulations, guidelines and standards pertaining to isolation gowns, characterization problems, and other potential barriers of isolation gown selection and use.
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