May 5th is International Hand Hygiene Day: An ideal occasion to warn against the careless use of disposable gloves
Disposable gloves protect those who wear them, keep dirt and bacteria away, shield the skin from unwanted contact with bodily fluids. And they also protect, according to the intuitive assumption, the person who is touched: the patient when taking blood, the elderly in need of care in the home when changing the catheter bag.
Bare hands are more hygienic than disposable gloves
But security is deceptive. Many nurses and doctors believe that when they wear gloves, all their actions with their hands are automatically sterile, more sterile than when they are performed with bare hands. But that is a mistake. Of course there are thousands of bacteria on hands, for example on the palms and fingers. But the human skin does not release more than about 100 bacteria when the hands touch a tabletop or the skin of another person. On the other hand, the plastics from which the commercially available disposable gloves are made are different. These gloves, when contaminated, release around 100,000 bacteria, a thousand times that. Bacteria simply stick better to human skin than to latex or vinyl.
Disposable gloves are purely for self-protection
The simple gloves used in surgeries are designed from the start to protect the wearer, not the patient. “They have always been part of the personal protective equipment of medical or nursing staff – they never claimed to protect the patient at the same time.