America's hospitals should consider turning to latex medical gloves with lower protein and powder levels to reduce latex sensitivity rather than opting for the facilitywide use of synthetic alternatives, according to a recent article in ECRI's monthly journal Health Devices, "Lower-Protein Latex Gloves: A Way to Reduce Allergic Reactions in Hospital Staff."
The non-profit, independent evaluator of medical devices notes that while some synthetic alternatives may cost less, latex gloves are still the most cost-effective choice when a glove offering a good level of protection is required. According to the article, latex gloves have well-established barrier properties and a level of comfort that most clinicians prefer. "Currently, synthetic gloves still fall short in these areas," the article reports.
ECRI explains the problems that are caused by latex sensitivity -- "ranging from a mild form of urticaria (a localized skin reaction) to life-threatening anaphylaxis (a systematic reaction).” While lower-protein latex gloves have long been suspected to lower the number of allergic reactions among healthcare staff, the article says, "recent research has confirmed that this is, in fact, the case."
ECRI also states that some users may have reactions, though much less severe, to gloves made from synthetic materials such as nitrile, isoprene, block copolymers, or vinyl. In addition, vinyl gloves, though significantly cheaper than other synthetics, are not suitable for many settings. The independent group says that if workers come in contact with biological hazards such as blood, vinyl should be avoided because of its tendency to tear more often during use than other glove materials.
The article recommends that hospitals purchase gloves with protein levels that are as low as possible, using the protein levels printed on their labeling or the Standard Malaysian Glove (SMG) label as a guide. The SMG is a quality control program produced under certification by the Malaysia Rubber Board for gloves made in Malaysia, which is a major glove-manufacturing center. The program was developed in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.