SPAG Nebulizer Small Particle Aerosol Generator Illustration

SPAG Nebulizer: Small Particle Aerosol Generator (2024)

by | Updated: Jul 7, 2024

The field of respiratory care has witnessed several advancements in drug administration technology, one of the most notable being the small particle aerosol generator (SPAG) nebulizer.

Developed in the 1940s originally for pathogen aerosol study, it was later adapted by ICN Pharmaceuticals specifically for the delivery of ribavirin to treat respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in infants.

The unique design and operation of the SPAG nebulizer set it apart in clinical practice, demonstrating its significance in the realm of respiratory care.

This article provides an overview of the SPAG nebulizer, including its history, design, and clinical applications.

What is a SPAG Nebulizer?

The small particle aerosol generator (SPAG) is a large-volume jet nebulizer primarily used for the administration of ribavirin. It uses dual flowmeters and a drying chamber to produce a stable, finely dispersed aerosol. Though effective, it necessitates precautions to limit caregiver exposure to the drug and prevent device obstructions.

SPAG Nebulizer Small Particle Aerosol Generator Vector Illustration

How Does a SPAG Nebulizer Work?

A SPAG nebulizer works by converting the medication, typically ribavirin, into a small particle aerosol form. This is achieved through a process involving two flowmeters and a drying chamber.

The first flowmeter directs gas into the nebulizer, where it interacts with the medication to produce an aerosol. This aerosol then enters a cylindrical drying chamber, controlled by the second flowmeter, where a separate flow of dry gas reduces the aerosol particles’ size through evaporation.

This process yields a stable, finely dispersed aerosol with a particle size of 1.2 μm, ideal for respiratory treatments. The nebulizer is designed to operate with various delivery systems such as masks, hoods, tents, or ventilator circuits.

History and Purpose

The small particle aerosol generator (SPAG) was conceived in the 1940s to analyze pathogen aerosols. It was later manufactured by ICN Pharmaceuticals specifically to administer ribavirin (Virazole) for infants suffering from respiratory syncytial virus infections.

Unique Features of a SPAG Nebulizer

The SPAG nebulizer stands apart in the field of clinical respiratory care. It features a drying chamber equipped with its own flow control to yield a steady aerosol.

The SPAG modifies the regular medical gas pressure from 50 psig to 26 psig using an adjustable regulator, linked to two distinct flowmeters. These manage the flow to the nebulizer and through the drying chamber independently.

The nebulizer is housed within a glass medication reservoir, the fluid surface and walls of which act as primary baffles. The aerosol exits the medication reservoir and enters a long, cylindrical drying chamber.

Aerosol Generation Process

Inside this chamber, an additional flow of dry gas is introduced, which reduces particle size through evaporation. This creates a monodisperse aerosol with a Mass Median Aerodynamic Diameter (MMAD) of 1.2 to 1.4 μm.

The flow for the nebulizer should be maintained at about 7 L/min, with the total flow from both flowmeters not dropping below 15 L/min.

The latest SPAG model consistently functions under back pressure and is compatible with masks, hoods, tents, and ventilator circuits.

Challenges and Solutions in Ribavirin Delivery

Delivering ribavirin with a SPAG nebulizer does come with a couple of specific challenges. The first involves the potential exposure of caregivers to the aerosolized drug.

The second issue arises when the SPAG is used to deliver ribavirin through a mechanical ventilator circuit, as drug precipitation can obstruct breathing valves or the circuit itself.

These challenges can be mitigated by: (1) installing a one-way valve between the SPAG and the circuit, (2) filtering out surplus aerosol particles before they reach the exhalation valve, and (3) regularly replacing filters to prevent increased expiratory resistance.

What is Ribavirin?

Ribavirin (Virazole) is an antiviral drug used against various viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza viruses, and the herpes simplex virus. It’s typically reserved for life-threatening infections and requires a specific nebulizer, a small-particle aerosol generator (SPAG), for administration.

Adverse effects of Ribavirin aerosol administration may include skin rash, eyelid erythema, conjunctivitis, and complications related to mechanical ventilation, such as endotracheal tube occlusion. Deterioration of pulmonary function can occur, and pregnant individuals should avoid exposure.

Assessment after Ribavirin administration includes monitoring signs of improvement in RSV infection severity (e.g., vital signs, respiratory patterns, FiO2 level, ventilatory support level, body temperature, ABGs, and other gas exchange indicators).

Additionally, the patient should be monitored for side effects, such as lung function deterioration, bronchospasm, cardiovascular instability, skin irritation, and equipment malfunction due to drug residue.

What is Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)?

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a common virus that causes infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. It’s a significant cause of respiratory illness in young children but can affect individuals of all ages.

In adults and older children, it may result in mild, cold-like symptoms, but in infants and people with compromised immune systems, it can lead to serious conditions such as bronchiolitis (inflammation of the small airways in the lung) and pneumonia.

The virus is highly contagious and spreads through respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze.

FAQs About SPAG Nebulizers

What is a Small Particle Aerosol Generator?

A small particle aerosol generator (SPAG) is a specialized nebulizer designed for administering the antiviral drug, ribavirin.

It uses a unique system involving two flowmeters and a drying chamber to generate a stable aerosol with small particle size, facilitating more effective treatment of certain respiratory infections.

What is Virazole?

Virazole is the brand name for Ribavirin, an antiviral medication used to treat various viral infections.

It is particularly used in the treatment of severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections, often in infants and young children. Virazole is usually administered via a SPAG nebulizer.

What are the Side Effects of Ribavirin?

Ribavirin can cause a variety of side effects, though these vary from patient to patient. Some potential side effects include skin rash, eyelid erythema (redness), and conjunctivitis.

In the context of mechanical ventilation, ribavirin can lead to endotracheal tube occlusion or blockages in the ventilator’s expiratory valves or sensors. Ribavirin may also cause a decline in pulmonary function.

What are the Risks and Warnings for Virazole?

Virazole, or Ribavirin, requires careful handling and administration. Notably, individuals who are pregnant or may become pregnant should avoid exposure due to potential risks to the fetus.

It can also cause deterioration in lung function, leading to possible respiratory complications.

Additionally, healthcare providers need to be cautious about their exposure to aerosolized Ribavirin to minimize potential health risks. Patients receiving Virazole should be closely monitored for side effects or adverse reactions during treatment.

Final Thoughts

The small particle aerosol generator (SPAG) nebulizer exemplifies the strides taken in medical technology to enhance patient care.

This distinctive device, with its capabilities to produce a stable, finely dispersed aerosol, plays a crucial role in the administration of the antiviral drug ribavirin, particularly in pediatric care.

Although its usage presents certain challenges, such as caregiver exposure and possible device obstructions, solutions have been developed to overcome these.

With ongoing advancements, the future of respiratory care continues to look promising, with the SPAG nebulizer as a testament to these progressive steps.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


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