Australia

Australian researchers are converting snorkels into life-saving ventilators

Researchers have adapted recreational snorkelling masks for use in hospitals. Source: Supplied

Converted snorkel masks are being trialled by Australian researchers as a way of reducing the spread of COVID-19 among health workers and patients.

As hospitals in northern Italy became overwhelmed with a growing number of dying coronavirus patients, doctors were forced to improvise.

After running out of continuous positive airway pressure masks, also known as CPAP, physicians quickly transformed non-medical devices, including snorkel masks, into emergency ventilators.

Dr Simon Joosten, a senior research fellow at Melbourne's Monash University and a respiratory specialist at Monash Health, said hearing about Italy's extreme shortages of personal protective equipment inspired him to act.

"It got me scared and worried that we were going to have the same situation in Melbourne and so I started testing the snorkel masks and CPAC masks at the uni because we do physiology research and we have a lab set up to do these kinds of tests," he told SBS News.

The snorkel mask is part of a trial of a range of alternative protection solutions.
The snorkel mask is part of a trial of a range of alternative protection solutions.
Supplied

Dr Joosten said the design of a recreational snorkel mask allows for the delivery of oxygen while at the same time filtering air as it is exhaled, limiting the spread of contaminated droplets.

Now that Australia has managed to flatten the coronavirus curve, he said there is more time to safely trial the modified prototype in a hospital setting.

"If a patient is wearing it in the hospital they can breathe air in from the environment and not breathe out through that valve - that's a really interesting safety element to the mask which means that even if the mask was blocked off the patient could still breathe in air from the environment," he said.

"It's an interesting set up that just doesn't exist in any medical devices at the moment."

The clinical trial is expected to begin next week and last for six months.

The adapted snorkel mask can limit the spread of contaminated droplets.
The adapted snorkel mask can limit the spread of contaminated droplets.
Supplied

In another potential solution, the Monash teams are also adapting CPAP ventilation masks for critically ill patients.

Ordinary CPAP masks have a vent in the front that prevents patients from rebreathing their own carbon dioxide.

However, the vent can also allow COVID-19 patients to spread the virus to others.

Dr Joosten said researchers have developed a sealed CPAP mask which, along with the snorkel mask, could provide treatment while minimising virus spread.

"They're a product that exists already but they're in short supply," he said.

"It makes it imperative to know can we safely seal a regular CPAP mask and see if it will perform the same way as a bespoke sealed CPAP mask."

Doctors in northern Italy treat a COVID-19 patient with a CPAP ventilation mask.
Doctors in northern Italy treat a COVID-19 patient with a CPAP ventilation mask.
AP

The new research comes as an increasing number of countries around the world struggle to overcome shortages of masks and other personal protective equipment.

In New York, the hardest-hit state in the US, the government has formed a partnership with six other northeast states to purchase $5 billion worth of PPE, tests, ventilators and other medical equipment.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo said teaming up will make them more competitive with suppliers who sell to the highest bidders.

"It will help us actually get the equipment because we have trouble still getting the equipment and just buying the equipment because these vendors on the other side, they're dealing with countries, they're dealing with the federal government," he told reporters on Sunday.

NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo has joined in a consortium with seven neighbouring states to buy personal protective equipment.
NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo has joined in a consortium with seven neighbouring states to buy personal protective equipment.
AP

In Indian-controlled Kashmir, which has reported less than 700 cases of coronavirus, residents are volunteering to make PPE kits to supply to hospitals.

Mufti Sadia, 28, is a fashion designer and one of the volunteers.

"There was a huge shortage of masks, so I thought, why not contribute to the society?" she said.

"I was fortunate enough to have the resources and workers with me at this difficult time. We started making 100 - 200 masks and I donated the masks and after that, many organisations and NGOs approached me for a huge quantity of masks."

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch