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University designs slit lamp breath shield prototype

Engineers have developed an expanded breath shield that can be mounted to slit lamps, providing greater protection to eyecare professionals performing urgent and essential care during the COVID-19 crisis.

In recent weeks, academics from the University of Michigan (UM) recognised ophthalmologists and other eyecare providers remained at risk of infection as they continue to deliver essential services such as intravitreal injections and unstable glaucoma monitoring.

They have designed a special purpose acrylic plexiglass panel that fits and works with slit lamp biomicroscopes. They have been installed at the Kellogg Eye Center, where Michigan Medicine is providing urgent eyecare to patients.

According to the research team, current models feature breath shields that are, at most, eight inches (20cm) on any side. At the request of doctors at the Kellogg Eye Center, a UM team led by Mr Lauro Ojeda, an associate research scientist in mechanical engineering, designed and prototyped a larger shield that is 12 inches by 15 inches (30cm x 38cm).

The acrylic plexiglass panel to provide more protection.

Professor Paul Lee, chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Kellogg Eye Center, said lockdown conditions have relegated many medical visits and procedures to non-essential, but for ophthalmologists, there were plenty of patients still requiring care.

“We have patients who still need injections to prevent blindness in cases of macular degeneration,” he said. “Others are dealing with retinal detachments and still others have uncontrolled glaucoma. And then there are people who experience sudden vision loss and need to be seen immediately.”

Lee was responsible for kicking the project into gear early in March after watching events unfold overseas.

“The data out of China indicated that ophthalmologists and ENT doctors were at the greatest risk of contracting coronavirus before the country really knew about it,” he said.

“The cumulative exposure and the numbers of patients we are exposed to are quite high. We sit face-to-face with patients and breathe, without the breath shields, the same air.”

Lee said the initial responses from doctors demonstrates the new shields are effective. He called the project “a wonderful collaboration with engineering to quickly meet a need of high importance to our patients and our health care teams”.

Ojeda said the team would ensure the design specs were available to the public.

They are also currently designing shields for portable slit lamp biomicroscpes, devices that require even closer proximity for doctor and patient.