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The University of Southampton
Global Network for Anti-Microbial Resistance and Infection Prevention

Engineers and Clinicians develop personal respirator for use during COVID-19 pandemic

Published: 1 April 2020
Paul Elkington wearing respirator
Paul Elkington wearing the respirator. Image: Ric Gillams

Global-NAMRIP members Professor Paul Elkington and Professor Hywel Morgan are testing a personal respirator prototype they have developed for frontline healthcare staff tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. If the tests are successful, they hope it will solve the limitations of existing protective equipment doctors and nurses are wearing on the wards.

The prototype has been developed with industry partners including McLaren and Kemp Sails in just a few days. It consists of a fabric hood which covers the wearer’s head, integrated with a plastic visor to protect their face. A small portable unit delivers clean air through a HEPA filter from a battery powered fan pack mounted on a belt.

Using off-the-shelf components, the prototype has received positive initial feedback from doctors, nurses and patients at University Hospital Southampton. Testing will continue within the wards this week, providing feedback on comfort and usability.

If the tests are successful and the prototype obtains the necessary safety certifications, the concept will be published open-source allowing access to other manufacturers and organisations around the world. The engineers on the team will also investigate developing simpler prototypes using only components available in developing countries.

Paul Elkington, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton said, "We must minimise the risk of infection for medical staff and stop them getting sick at the peak of the pandemic, so that they can care for others.  The engineering team have rapidly developed something simple yet effective. The HEPA filtered air removes 99.95% of particulate matter and the face mask protects from splashes, and so we think this will reduce the risk of infection".

Hywel Morgan, Professor of Bioelectronics at the University of Southampton said, “This is an excellent example of industry, universities and hospitals combining their expertise and answering the call to develop solutions needed to save lives in the current crisis. We are really grateful to our partners at McLaren, Kemp Sails and INDO on behalf of Baynhams for their commitment in working around the clock with us to getting this from a concept to a working prototype in a matter of days.”

Whilst other personal respirators exist, they also face high demand. The successful deployment of this product on a large scale would help to increase the amount of protective equipment available to help keep healthcare workers safe, healthy and able to remain caring for patients. Making the design specification accessible online would mean this product could be manufactured in any country without facing export delays or restrictions.


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