Despite safety protocols and personal protective equipment, front line health care workers are highly vulnerable when it comes to infectious diseases such as COVID-19. And among the most vulnerable are those dealing with a rather common procedure in hospitalized COVID-19 patients—tracheal intubation.

Steven G. Venticinque, M.D.
Steven G. Venticinque, M.D., clinical professor of anesthesiology and surgery in the Long School of Medicine

Steven G. Venticinque, M.D., clinical professor of anesthesiology and surgery in the Long School of Medicine and an expert in airway management and anesthesia equipment, saw a need and donned his inventor’s cap yet again.

“A significant number of severely ill patients with COVID-19 develop respiratory failure,” said Dr. Venticinque, a former Air Force physician and current cardiothoracic and critical care anesthesiologist at UT Health San Antonio. “When this occurs, they require the insertion of an endotracheal breathing tube so they can be placed on a ventilator. For the health care provider, this procedure is risky because they’re putting this breathing tube in right at the source of the infection. The possibility of these providers getting exposed to small aerosol droplets during the procedure is quite high. This risk adds an additional amount of worry to what is already a stressful procedure for many providers.”

So, around the world, he added, health care providers such as anesthesiologists, emergency room doctors, nurse anesthetists, critical care doctors, paramedics and others, began improvising “all manner of hoods and plastic barriers in order to shield themselves better during intubation.”

While these PPE adjuncts are useful, many are not practical in terms of cost, distribution and storage, said Dr. Venticinque, who saw a better way.

“Our device is a plastic enclosure that is disposable and foldable down to about one inch in thickness,” he said. “It can be shipped and stored at large volumes, manufactured easily and sold at relatively low cost. It’s completely disposable, so it doesn’t have to be meticulously cleaned. It can be used on any bed, from a hospital bed to a stretcher to an operating room table. And it’s very ergonomic for the user in that it’s less restrictive of the operator’s movements compared to rigid enclosures.”

Dr. Venticinque said the device, dubbed the Droplet and Aerosol Mitigating Enclosure, should also be useful in military settings since it’s lightweight, low-profile and is easily shipped and stored.

“And, you can leave it on intubated patients for the duration of mechanical ventilation for exposure mitigation during other aerosolizing/droplet events and procedures,” he added.

The Droplet and Aerosol Mitigating Enclosure is Dr. Venticinque’s second venture into intubation innovation since joining UT Health San Antonio in 2007. Working in his garage he invented the Tusk Tracheal Cannulator, a device meant to make endotracheal intubation faster and safer, aiming to result in fewer complications and better outcomes for patients.

Olifant Medical, cofounded by Dr. Venticinque, is a company that is based upon the airway management technology he devised. Olifant is licensing Dr. Venticinque’s first invention, as well as the Droplet and Aerosol Mitigating Enclosure, from UT Health San Antonio.

On May 1, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for devices such as the Droplet and Aerosol Mitigating Enclosure.

Dr. Venticinque said the device “could be on the market in as little as a couple of weeks. We’re really moving quickly, as we need to in these circumstances.”