History and Safety
Medical disposable natural rubber gloves were first introduced in the 1890s when a surgical nurse at John Hopkins Hospital complained of suffering from dermatitis caused by the mercury chloride solution she was using to disinfect her patients in the operating room. This led to the manufacturing of the first pair of rubber gloves by Goodyear Rubber Company in New York (1). The natural rubber elastomer found within latex provides a very efficient physical protection barrier against infection fluids,viruses and other microorganisms, and is thus well suited for the manufacturing of medical gloves (2).100 years later with the rapid spread of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) global epidemic, the wearing of disposable medical protective equipment became mandatory and with it ,an exponential increase in the number of latex allergies was observed (3). Type I hypersensitivity reactions associated with latex affect less than 1% of the general population and are more frequent within certain risk groups such healthcare personnel due to continuous, long term exposure to latex allergenic proteins (2). Despite the above mentioned hypersensitivity reactions, latex gloves are the preferred medical choice for delicate surgical procedures and remain safe to use in the general population with no previous history of latex allergy. The American FDA banned the use of powdered gloves in 2016 due to the significant concern for adverse health effects in patients whose internal tissues have been in direct contact with glove powder. Some of the reported side effects include hypersensitivity reactions, acute airway inflammation and immune responses such as formation of granulomas and adhesions (4).
Latex gloves are derived from natural rubber extracted from the bark of the Hevea brasiliensis tree.The rubber hydrocarbons consist of 25-45% of the final latex product. Centrifugation of rubber leads to the formation of three distinct phases where several proteins of different molecular weight can be found, these are significantly removed as the latex is processed into its final product. The water soluble residual extractable proteins (EPs) which are left after processing are the ones associated with the development of latex hypersensitivity reactions. Further into the manufacturing process, the product is dipped in chemicals, vulcanized and leached; the leaching protocol has recently been optimized to reduce the residual ESPs left within the gloves. Additionally, residual EPs are soluble in water, thus gloves washed and tested under different conditions may retain different protein concentrations which are non comparable.
Lastly, several latex gloves manufacturing countries such as Malaysia have spent significant focus on research and development projects aimed at evaluating the implementation of new materials such as ¨low protein lattices¨ and optimized pre-/post cure leaching protocols.
Happy Hands Gloves Co Ltd., (Thailand) and Top Gloves founded in Malaysia and present in seven countries across South east Asia and Europe are two major suppliers of internationally certified (ISO9001) latex medical products.
Uses of latex gloves within the medical profession
Use of gloves is widely spread across a range of medical professions, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) recommends the wearing of gloves for laboratory personnel and healthcare staff dealing with moderate to high risk medical procedures and hazardous drugs. Latex gloves represent a resistant physical protective barrier separating the patients potentially infectious and pathological fluids and specimens from the medical and laboratory staff as well as protecting the patient from potential sources of environmental cross-contamination (4). The choice of sterile or non-sterile gloves depends on the risk level of the medical procedure and the immune status of the patient in question (5). Moreover, both the FDA and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) highly recommend the implementation of other safety and hygiene practices such as regular hand washing and proper glove fit-testing. Medical personnel in direct contact with patients are required to assess whether the patient suffers from any latex allergies prior to examination, appropriately dispose of gloves after use and be mindful of sharp objects and any other potential sources of micro-tearing. In comparison to other types of gloves, latex ones are highly resistant to tearing and punctures with great tactile retention and high finger dexterity. They do not only act as a highly effective physical barrier but as a chemical one too, protecting the wearer from chemical burns caused by commonly used toxic acids and bases, chlorine, iodine and formaldehyde(6).
Click Here for References
- THE HISTORY OF RUBBER GLOVES. (1958). The Lancet, 272(7052), 892. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(58)92316-X
- Yip E, Cacioli P. The manufacture of gloves from natural rubber latex. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2002;110(2 Suppl):S3-S14. doi:10.1067/mai.2002.124499
- 3. Russell-Fell RW. Avoiding problems: evidence-based selection of medical. Br J Nurs. 2000;9(3):139‐146. doi:10.12968/bjon.2000.9.3.139
- Medical gloves (2020). Available at: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/medical-gloves
- What are medical gloves? (2020). Available at: https://www.safetygloves.co.uk/blog/what-are-medical-gloves.html
- 3 Qualities that make latex gloves stand out (2020). Available at: https://www.trade21.com.sg/news/3-distinctive-qualities-of-latex-gloves/