Medical-grade gloves useless for COVID-19 prevention in normal settings; here's why

Besides adding to medical waste, usage of medical grade gloves by the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic, can create a shortage of supplies for healthcare workers

Myupchar July 31, 2020 12:57:28 IST
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Medical-grade gloves useless for COVID-19 prevention in normal settings; here's why

Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which personal protective equipment (PPE) the general public should use (and how) have been the focus of debates. From understanding how many layers your mask needs to the common mistakes people make while wearing them, we have come a long way as new information, about how the SARS-CoV-2 virus works and how much protection each type of PPE provides, continues to emerge.

The one thing experts across the world have not needed to debate — and are in complete agreement about — is the use of gloves, especially medical-grade gloves, for protection against COVID-19 infection.

From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), every organisation and the multitudes of experts associated with them agree that gloves should only be used in healthcare settings.

This means that only doctors, nurses, healthcare providers, those who collect samples and sanitation workers in hospitals, etc, need to wear gloves (preferably single-use ones) and are trained to dispose of them properly after use. The use of gloves by the general public in communities is not recommended, except under very specific circumstances.

Why wearing gloves, in general, is useless

The following are the reasons why wearing gloves to shop at the market or while stepping out for work is utterly useless, according to experts.

1. A false sense of security: Medical grade gloves are supposed to be for single-use, and doctors use strict decontamination protocols before and after wearing them, including washing hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Since you may not be familiar with this process, the very act of wearing gloves might give you a false sense of security.

The European CDC mentions how the practice of wearing gloves can make people in a community believe that they don’t need to follow hand hygiene practices properly, even though hand-washing is an essential precaution against disease transmission.

2. Increased transmission: This false sense of security might also lead you to make the silly mistake of assuming that the surface of the gloves is safe from contamination when it’s clearly not. Just imagine that you touched a contaminated surface and then proceeded to touch your face — the microbes got transferred to the gloves and your face from thereon. What safety from the virus do you have left then?

3. Taking off is tricky: The reason why healthcare professionals are taught how to wear and discard PPE safely is that the risk of cross-contamination and transmission is very high during these processes. Gloves are particularly tricky because you need to take them off one hand and then proceed to touch the other glove to take it off too. If the first hand is naked and touching the surface of the second glove, wouldn’t that leave the margin for contamination open?

4. Not for complete protection: As the FDA points out, medical-grade gloves provide broad barrier protection for the hands, but their efficacy in providing specific protection against COVID-19 or any other infection is not known. What’s more? Wearing gloves for long durations can lead to dermatological side effects, like rashes, excessive sweating, etc.

5. Glove waste: The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that inappropriate use of gloves, like by the general public during a pandemic, can create a shortage of supplies for healthcare workers. It’s a waste of resources and can have a deep impact on the environment too.

Most gloves are made of non-degradable materials and their disposal can create a huge source of pollution and cause environmental damage in the very near future.

Situations where wearing gloves is necessary

Wearing gloves for protection against COVID-19 is not as necessary as following proper hand and respiratory hygiene rules, wearing a mask and social distancing. In fact, if you’re following these rules thoroughly, there are only a few situations where wearing gloves would be needed for you.

1. While cleaning: If you’re handling bleach or other disinfectants, it’s best to wear gloves to protect your hands from harm. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly before and after use.

2. While caring for the sick: If you’re tending to someone with any infection (and not just COVID-19), wear disposable gloves while near them or handling objects used by them. Remember to wash your hands before and after using gloves though.

For more information, read our article on The right way to wash hands to prevent COVID-19 infection.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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