Health Safety

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 2 million people pick up infections during hospital stays each year, resulting in about 90,000 deaths with an overall cost of $5 billion annually. For this reason, effective protection is critical to both healthcare professionals and their patients. Both the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommend the use of appropriate barrier protection when handling blood pathogens and infectious materials. The use of medical gloves with effective barrier performance provides one such safety measure. In view of the availability of many types of medical gloves today, and that not all gloves offer the same degree of barrier protection, it is important that care must be taken to select the right gloves for the right procedures.
Hospital Infection Rate
Barrier Protection

In the healthcare environment, disposable medical gloves are life-saving devices that prevent the transmission of AIDS, hepatitis B and other potentially dangerous infectious diseases that can be contracted through contact with blood and body fluids. Effective barrier protection should therefore be an important criterion for glove selection and glove use.

Considerable information is now available as shown by a great number of comparative studies on barrier performance of the various types of medical gloves by U.S. researchers (Please see Table 1). Findings invariably showed that non-latex (synthetic) gloves, especially those made of vinyl, have inferior barrier with significantly higher leakage rates during use as compared to natural rubber latex gloves. In fact, natural rubber latex gloves have been universally preferred because of their excellent barrier protection, in-use strength, comfort, fit, and tactile sensitivity - important characteristics of gloves, as failure of these could lead to barrier protection being compromised. Furthermore, natural rubber latex gloves have also resealing properties when tiny needle punctures are encountered, a feature not observed in synthetic gloves such as vinyl and nitrile gloves.
Barrier Protection Studies
"NRL (natural rubber latex) is pliable allowing for natural molding for more appropriate fit and has the ability to reseal when tiny punctures occur. In general, NRL provides comfort to the wearer, adequately protects against microorganisms, and provides adequate barrier effectiveness when used for medical and nursing procedures. Consequently, NRL is still the barrier of choice in the U.S."

- US Food and Drug Administration "Medical Glove Powder Report" updated on 30 April 2009.
Latex Allergy

The awareness of latex protein allergy in the 1990s affecting certain sensitive individuals had raised concern about the use of latex gloves. It is apprent now that the cause of the allergy arose from the use of an older generation of latex gloves that had no control on their residual protein level. Natural rubber latex gloves are derived from latex obtained from the Hevea Brasiliensis tree. Like all plant materials, latex contains proteins, which can cause sensitivity among certain sensitive individuals. The latex protein allergy is a type 1 reaction with immediate hypersensitivity. Sensitization is brought about by repeated exposures to excessive residual soluble protein in the latex gloves. As with other proteins in nuts, fruits, potatoes, tomatoes and some seafood. Which can elicit type 1 allergy, the reactions produce similar symptoms ranging from very mild common form of hives, watery eyes and runny noses, to asthma, to very serious but rare cases of anaphylaxis. Studies have shown that latex protein allergy affects about 1% of the general population (Liss G.M, and Sussman G.L. Am. J. Industrail Medicine; 1999; 35:196-200). The prevalence among healthcare workers, spina bifida and multiple-operated children is higher. Once sensitized and latex allergic, these individuals have to avoid the allergens they are sensitive to.

Latex protein allergy is sometimes confused with the more common irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis, the two other types of possible reactions often experienced by sensitive glove users. While irritant such as detergents, powder, temperature and pH extremes are causes of the former, the latter is mainly due to the presence of residual chemicals used in the manufacturing of gloves. Both latex and non-latex gloves can bring about these two types of reactions.
Latex Safe Measures

Advancement in glove manufacturing technologies, especially in Malaysia, has led to the production of a new generation of low-protein latex gloves, which remain effective in barrier protection and are low risk to latex protein allergy. The use of such low-protein gloves has been shown by many studies by researchers in the U.S., Europe and Canada confirming that wearing low-protein low- or powder latex gloves greatly diminishes the risk of allergic reactions and the likelihood of healthcare workers developing latex sensitivity. These studies also demonstrated that latex sensitive individuals donning synthetic gloves could work safely alongside their co-workers wearing low-protein latex gloves.

Hospital Studies
In fact, to assist users in identifying quality low-protein latex gloves, Malaysia has formulated the Standard Malaysian Glove certification program to ensure the manufacture of quality gloves that are low-protein. Please see "SMG" gloves.
Update on Latex Allergy

There has been a great deal of positive development regarding the decline of latex allergy since the 1990s, attributed to efforts made by the glove industry in product improvements and education by healthcare-related agencies. This has in fact been acknowledged recently by a number of well-known clinical researchers.

  • Good News for People with Latex Allergies
    Latex allergy prevalence is down since the mid-1990s, mainly due to a change in the way latex gloves are manufactured by P. J. Early, HealthLink, Medical College of Wisconsin Aug 10, 2005
  • Lessons Learned from Latex Allergy
    Most latex-sensitized healthcare workers can today be accommodated in the 'new' latex allergen-safe environment. Low-protein, powder-free gloves have drastically reduced exposures in the healthcare setting. Beezhold D.and Sussman G., Business Briefing: Global Surgery - Future Directions 2005 Sep 2005
  • Latex Allergy in the Surgical Environment
    "It appears that the epidemic has been eliminated." Jordan N Fink Business Briefing: Global Surgery - Future Directions 2005 Sep 2005.
  • Latex Allergy has almost disappeared among healthcare workers.
    Latex allergy has very significantly declined and almost disappeared. It is because of the initiatives of the government, hospitals and industry, which have changed their products. The examination gloves are 1,000-fold less allergenic and sterile gloves about 100-fold less allergenic (than they were in the 1980s.) - Sussman G.M., University of Toronto, Hospital Employee Health, AHC Media, LLC Website, 7 January 2007.
More related articles: