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Osaka Pref. hospital crowdfunds capsule-shaped isolation unit for virus patient transport

An artist's rendition of the cocoon-shaped isolation unit. (Image courtesy of Osaka University Hospital)

SUITA, Osaka -- A hospital in this west Japan city is raising funds to produce a capsule-shaped isolation unit designed for easier, safer transportation of coronavirus patients on emergency medical services vehicles.

    Osaka University Hospital aims to create a new capsule-shaped unit that feels less claustrophobic for patients while being easier to isolate them in, which would consequently afford greater safety for medical staff than a conventional unit does.

    Following the introduction of an emergency medical services vehicle at the hospital in April 2020, and up until the end of February 2021, the institution transported 51 coronavirus patients in a commercially available soft-plastic isolation unit. However, the need to maintain negative air pressure in the unit to prevent viral escape leads to the unit deflating and, in summertime, patients inside sweating profusely.

    Concerns about infection prevention have also led to the separation of space inside the emergency medical services vehicle with a plastic curtain, and staff use of goggles to protect their eyes reportedly makes it difficult to observe patients. Additionally, after patient transport is completed, it takes about two hours to disinfect the vehicle's interior, the isolation unit and other items, thereby limiting the number of patients they can transport.

    A soft-plastic isolation unit for transporting patients infected with the coronavirus is seen at Osaka University Hospital in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, on March 25, 2021. (Mainichi/Satoshi Kondo)

    The isolation unit it aims to develop consists of two sections -- a main body and lid. It will be about 80 centimeters high, meaning patients can sit up inside it. A ventilator and other equipment could also be placed inside, making it easier to take sufficient infection prevention measures, and a curtain and other protective items will be unnecessary, thereby offering easier patient observation and disinfection after transport.

    The hospital will collect funds until May 31; it has already met its first goal of 5 million yen (about $45,000) to make a box-shaped isolation unit. If it achieves its second 10-million-yen (about $90,000) goal, it will make a cocoon-shaped one offering high visibility and easy disinfection.

    In calling for donations, Takeshi Shimazu, head of the hospital's Department of Traumatology and Acute Critical Medicine, said, "We want to establish a system that safely transports as many patients as possible."

    (Japanese original by Satoshi Kondo, Osaka Science & Environment News Department)

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