Latex gloves no substitute for hand hygiene

  • Deborah Condon

If you are a patient, you may be relieved to see your treating healthcare professional wearing gloves. However, a new study has found that those who wear gloves are less likely to clean their hands both before and after they have made contact with a patient and this could increase the risk of infections in settings such as hospitals.

According to UK researchers, gloves should be used in certain circumstances, such as if there is a chance that a professional is going to come into contact with a patient's body fluids.

However, in terms of infection control, wearing gloves should not be considered a substitute for good hand hygiene. Professionals should still wash their hands both before and after they have had contact with a patient.

The researchers emphasised that while the use of gloves can lower the number of germs that make it on to the hands, some germs can get through latex and hands can be contaminated by ‘back spray' when a professional takes off their gloves after being in contact with a patient's body fluids.

As part of this study, over 7,000 patient contacts in almost 60 intensive and acute care units in the UK were observed. This makes the study one of the largest ever carried out into the role of gloves in hand hygiene.

The researchers said that overall hand hygiene was ‘disappointingly low, at just under 50%. However hygiene was even worse in cases where gloves were worn, at 41%.

"The chances of hands being cleaned before or after patient contact appear to be substantially lower if gloves were being worn. We call this the phenomenon of the dirty hand in the latex glove," explained lead researcher, Dr Sheldon Stone of the Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust.

He said more focus should be placed on the importance of hand hygiene even when using gloves in healthcare settings. He also called for further research into why healthcare professionals appear less inclined to wash their hands when wearing gloves.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.


Discussions on this topic are now closed.