During respiratory disease outbreaks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, aerosol-generating procedures, including tracheostomy, are associated with the risk of viral transmission to health care workers.
To quantify particle aerosolization during tracheostomy surgery and tracheostomy care and to evaluate interventions that minimize the risk of viral particle exposure.
This comparative effectiveness study was conducted from August 2020 to January 2021 at a tertiary care academic institution. Aerosol generation was measured in real time with an optical particle counter during simulated (manikin) tracheostomy surgical and clinical conditions, including cough, airway nebulization, open suctioning, and electrocautery. Aerosol sampling was also performed during in vivo swine tracheostomy procedures (n = 4), with or without electrocautery. Fluorescent dye was used to visualize cough spread onto the surgical field during swine tracheostomy. Finally, 6 tracheostomy coverings were compared with no tracheostomy covering to quantify reduction in particle aerosolization.
Respirable aerosolized particle concentration.
Cough, airway humidification, open suctioning, and electrocautery produced aerosol particles substantially above baseline. Compared with uncovered tracheostomy, decreased aerosolization was found with the use of tracheostomy coverings, including a cotton mask (73.8% [(95% CI, 63.0%-84.5%]; d = 3.8), polyester gaiter 79.5% [95% CI, 68.7%-90.3%]; d = 7.2), humidification mask (82.8% [95% CI, 72.0%-93.7%]; d = 8.6), heat moisture exchanger (HME) (91.0% [95% CI, 80.2%-101.7%]; d = 19.0), and surgical mask (89.9% [95% CI, 79.3%-100.6%]; d = 12.8). Simultaneous use of a surgical mask and HME decreased the particle concentration compared with either the HME (95% CI, 1.6%-12.3%; Cohen d = 1.2) or surgical mask (95% CI, 2.7%-13.2%; d = 1.9) used independently. Procedures performed with electrocautery increased total aerosolized particles by 1500 particles/m3 per 5-second interval (95% CI, 1380-1610 particles/m3 per 5-second interval; d = 1.8).
The findings of this laboratory and animal comparative effectiveness study indicate that tracheostomy surgery and tracheostomy care are associated with significant aerosol generation, putting health care workers at risk for viral transmission of airborne diseases. Combined HME and surgical mask coverage of the tracheostomy was associated with decreased aerosolization, thereby reducing the risk of viral transmission to health care workers.