How Do Infection Control Gloves Work?

Did you know that there are approximately 165,000 healthcare-associated infections in Australia every year? (Overseas there are even more – with Europe, for example, reporting more than 4 million per year). This may be a conservative estimate, and the risk of disease transmission within clinical settings can’t be ignored.

One of the most important, yet simplest, ways to protect ourselves and others from becoming sick is to wear infection control gloves. Worn in the workplace by everyone from doctors, nurses, and dentists to scientists, pathologists, laboratory technicians, beauticians, piercers, and tattooists, they are a form of personal protective equipment that is an affordable, easy way to minimise the transmission of disease-causing microorganisms via the hands.

What Are Infection Control Gloves?

These gloves are designed to protect the wearer’s hands from a distinct set of hazards and to reduce the risk of skin contamination and the transmission of disease-causing materials from the wearer to the patient/client and vice-versa.

Infection control gloves provide a barrier to prevent contact of the bare hands with the skin, other tissues, and body fluids of patients or clients. They are primarily used within the healthcare sector, though are also used widely in other industries where bacterial and viral contamination is a risk. They are also ideal for use by the general public at home when a household member is unwell with influenza, COVID-19, gastroenteritis, or any other infectious disease.

Not only does the right choice of glove protect the wearer’s hands from coming into contact with blood and other body fluids and bacteria, viruses, and other harmful microorganisms found on the skin and other surfaces, but it also prevents the spread of these from the wearer to others.

Most infection control gloves used today are manufactured from latex or nitrile. These materials, when used properly, are effective in preventing 70%-80% of disease spread. They are, however, not a perfect solution, and hand hygiene remains imperative.

Important to Note:

  • These gloves are designed to be single-use – worn and then disposed of. They must be changed between every patient/client.
  • Hands should be thoroughly washed and dried both before applying gloves and after they have been removed.
  • Any grazes, scratches, cuts, insect bites, blisters, or other wounds that compromise the integrity of the wearer’s skin should be covered with a sticking plaster or other dressing before gloves are donned.
  • You need to understand that no glove is 100% impermeable. This is especially the case where certain chemicals and other substances are used (e.g., in a laboratory setting). Many chemicals can damage and even pass through disposable gloves, and they need to be discarded and replaced when the integrity of the barrier they provide is compromised. This includes after contact with chemicals.
  • Even the strongest nitrile glove is vulnerable to tears and punctures. This is particularly relevant in clinical settings where needles, scalpels, and similar sharp instruments are used.
  • Infection control gloves must be disposed of and reapplied promptly after contamination.
  • The type of glove you select is often a personal choice. Nitrile gloves do cost more but offer greater protection in some settings than latex does. Nitrile gloves are also a viable alternative for clinical staff or patients who are allergic to latex.
  • Gloves should be removed after touching patients/clients and before touching general objects such as tapware, doorknobs, phones, pens, computer keyboards, elevator buttons, etc.

If you work in a clinical setting of any kind, or one where close human contact is required, use good quality infection control gloves for the health and wellbeing of yourself and the community. Most workplaces will have a WH&S Protocol in place that clearly sets out your responsibility and practices to follow.