Healthcare News & Insights

How gloves & gowns can spread germs in hospitals

Hospitals need to do what they can to stop the spread of germs and infections. Besides common hygiene practices, staff need to pay closer attention to making sure they change their gloves and gowns properly. Surgeon putting on surgical gloves

If it’s not done right, it can cause more contamination in hospitals, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study was designed to show just how fast germs can spread while donning and removing gloves and gowns.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, staff from several hospitals in the Cleveland area, including doctors, nurses and physical therapists, volunteered to participate in the study.

Each staff member was asked to put on a contact isolation gown and gloves. Then they were given a small amount of a special lotion that glowed under a black light, which represented bacteria.

Researchers had staffers rub the lotion on their gloved hands. Then they wiped their hands on the isolation gowns. Once that was done, hospital staff removed the gloves and gowns like they normally did.

After this, researchers used the black light to see where the lotion ended up. The lotion ended up on their clothes and skin 38% of the time when they removed the gowns – and 54% of the time when they removed their gloves. Overall, each worker’s average contamination rate was 46%.

Little errors matter

Most of this contamination happened due to small mistakes staff made when putting on or removing their protective equipment, such as:

  • forgetting to pull gloves over the wrist
  • removing gowns over the head
  • putting on gloves before putting on the gown, and
  • touching the outside of a glove before removing it.

Staff members who made these mistakes ended up contaminating their hands and clothing 70% of the time.

In real life, mistakes like these can cause germs to make their way into patient rooms, especially if clinical staff aren’t closely following hand hygiene protocol after changing gloves and gowns.

Following guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has a set of best practices hospital workers should follow for protective equipment, such as gloves and gowns.

The gown should be put on first, making sure it fully covers the torso to the knees and the arms to the wrists. After the arms are in the sleeves, the gown should be wrapped around the back and tied. Then, gloves should be pulled onto the hands up to the wrist of the gown.

When removing a gown and gloves, workers should remove the gloves first, and then reach around and untie the gown, avoiding contact with any contaminated areas on the front or sleeves. Workers can also remove the gown and gloves in the same step, pulling the gown forward to loosen the ties and wrapping it into a bundle with the removed gloves inside.

Hands should be washed at the end of the process – or in any instance where contamination accidentally occurs (e.g., a clinician touches the front of his gown with his bare hands).

More to be done

Unfortunately, even when using the CDC’s recommended techniques for gown removal, contamination can occur. Hospital workers still managed to contaminate themselves 30% of the time when following these procedures correctly.

To do more to stop the spread of germs, researchers suggest hospitals look into disinfecting gloves and gowns before removal with a bleach solution or other cleaning agent.

Another possibility, as suggested in the LA Times article: Provide different-sized gowns and gloves for clinical staff.

Researchers noted that people who were smaller and larger than average had the hardest time putting on and taking off gowns according to recommended guidelines. So equipment that suited their size could reduce the likelihood of further contamination in your hospital.

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