Study of the Day: Latex Gloves May Add to Hygiene Issues in Hospitals

New research shows that healthcare workers who wear gloves are much less likely to clean their hands before and after patient contact

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PROBLEM: Gloves reduce germ transmission in situations where contact with body fluids is expected. Their use, however, is not a substitute for hand-washing before and after patient contact, since germs can still get through latex and hands can be contaminated by "back spray" when gloves are removed.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers in the U.K. led by Sheldon Stone of the Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust observed glove use and hand-hygiene practices involving 7,578 patient contacts in 56 intensive care units in 15 hospitals.

RESULTS: Gloves were used in just over a quarter of the patient contacts and were absent in 141 of 669 high-risk contacts. Use of gloves was strongly associated with poor hand hygiene as well. While only half of those who didn't wear gloves washed their hands before and after coming into contact with a patient, the rate for those who wore gloves was even lower at just 41.4 percent.

CONCLUSION: Hand hygiene is a serious problem in hospitals. Healthcare workers who wear gloves may be relying too much on their ability to prevent transmission, as they clean their hands before and after patient contact much less frequently.

IMPLICATION: This failure of basic hand hygiene could be contributing to the spread of infection, the researchers say in a statement. Hand-hygiene campaigns should consider placing greater emphasis on the World Health Organization's indications for glove use.

SOURCE: The full study, "The Dirty Hand in the Latex Glove: A Study of Hand-Hygiene Compliance When Gloves Are Worn," is published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

Image: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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