Group calls for FDA, hospitals to ban latex medical gloves

Public Citizen wants the FDA and hospitals to ban use of latex gloves in healthcare settings.

Doctors wear latex gloves during surgery and patient examinations to avoid spreading germs, but they may actually be putting patients--and themselves--at risk. According to the advocacy group Public Citizen, medical gloves that are made of natural rubber latex or have cornstarch powder are harmful for hospital workers and patients and should be banned from healthcare settings.

For healthcare workers, the major risk is having allergic reactions to wearing latex gloves or inhaling cornstarch powder bound to latex proteins that have been released from such gloves worn by others. Such a reaction can be serious or life-threatening, Public Citizen said in a statement. Patients also can experience similar types of allergic reactions.

The gloves can further compromise patients safety because the cornstarch powder can be deposited in tissues of patients during surgery. That can promote infections, delay healing and cause inflammation, among other adverse events.

"The FDA's prolonged failure to take action eliminating the dangers posed by powdered surgical and patient examination gloves demonstrates a reckless and inexcusable disregard for the health and safety of patients and healthcare workers," said Dr. Michael Carome, deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group in a petition to the FDA.

Banning latex gloves not only would make workers and patients safer, but also would help hospitals to save money, as a switch to powder- and latex-free gloves would lead to decreased worker's compensation claims and employee sick days used, notes the petition.

Since Public Citizen's initial petition, several hospitals have switched to powder-free and/or non-latex gloves, including Johns Hopkins, Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente and Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania.

For more:
- read the Public Citizen press release
- here's the petition to the FDA (.pdf)