Healthcare News & Insights

Gross! Docs’ use of latex gloves is spreading germs

Attention all germophobes: Latex gloves may actually worsen the hand hygiene of health care workers who wear them. That’s the finding of a recent study published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

The researchers found that health care workers who wear latex gloves are less likely to wash their hands in between patients.

That’s a problem because latex gloves are far from foolproof when it comes to protecting patients and health workers from each others’ germs.

Germs can travel through the latex material, or get sprayed through the air when the gloves are removed. Since gloves are most commonly worn when providers are dealing with the sickest of patients or procedures that are most likely to involve bodily fluids, it means even greater exposure to germs through health care workers’ germ-tainted hands.

For the study, researchers reviewed more than 7,000 contacts between doctors and patients, at 15 different hospitals throughout England. They found that the overall hand-washing rate among physicians was just under 48%. But when doctors wore latex gloves — for about 25% of patient interactions — the hand-washing rate dropped to a dismal 41%.

Essentially, when dealing with the sickest and most infectious patients, doctors are least likely to wash their hands. The researchers suspect doctors and other health care workers are lapsing on hand-washing out of the mistaken belief that latex gloves are impervious to germs and therefore, wearing them leaves their hands clean. In fact, latex gloves lower the risk of germ transmission — they don’t prevent it.

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