Isolation gowns in health care settings: Laboratory studies, regulations and standards, and potential barriers of gown selection and use

  • F. Selcen Kilinc Balci
    Address correspondence to F. Selcen Kilinc Balci, PhD, National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL/NIOSH/CDC), 626 Cochrans Mill Rd, T-403-107, Pittsburgh, PA 15236.
    National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pittsburgh, PA
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Published:September 18, 2015DOI:


      • No isolation gown standard exists that includes both performance and design criteria.
      • Infection preventionists face difficulties in the selection of isolation gowns.
      • End users have limited information on the level of protection provided by isolation gowns.
      • There is an urgent need to establish performance and design criteria for isolation gowns.
      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 cross-infection. 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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