When you consider the significant risk that an illness can pose to our elderly population, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of precautionary hygiene for those working in hospitals and aged care settings.
Every occupation comes with their own specific personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, but there is one staple item of PPE that bonds people from all industries – and that is disposable gloves.
Caring for people has always been a ‘hands-on’ job, in both a literal and figurative sense, and gloves provide a barrier of protection for both the employee and the patient being attended to.
Like other products, there are a variety of disposable gloves that are comprised of different materials, but the most common three types of gloves used by carers are vinyl (PVC), latex, and nitrile.
Many aged care staff and healthcare professionals put their faith in their employer to provide them with the safest available PPE, but research has shown that when it comes to disposable gloves – many providers are still putting savings before safety.
Disposable gloves that are made out of vinyl (also known as polyvinyl chloride or PVC) are very common in aged care facilities, but research indicates that gloves of this type actually provide the least protection and durability when compared to gloves made from other materials.
Despite their prevalence in both the aged care and food industry, vinyl gloves are actually porous.
The microscopic pores on the surface of vinyl gloves can result in harmful chemicals and bodily fluids permeating through the glove and coming into contact with the user.
Studies have proven that vinyl gloves have an increased permeability to bacteria and viruses when compared to other gloves, and in some cases, vinyl gloves actually begin leaking from the moment they are donned.
With more holes occurring during routine use – many of which are microscopic – vinyl gloves increase the likelihood of cross-contamination between the glove user and the substances that they are coming into contact with.
Latex gloves (also known as Natural Rubber Latex or NRL) on the other hand, are often viewed as a superior alternative to vinyl gloves by healthcare professionals.
Although latex is less permeable and more durable than the vinyl glove alternative, it does have limited puncture resistance and long term exposure has been known to trigger an allergic response in some staff and patients.
This allergy can present itself in the form of redness or a mild rash on the skin but in some cases, it can be quite serious and lead to anaphylaxis which can result in severe ramifications.
Disposable gloves made out of a synthetic substance called nitrile were quickly adopted in the healthcare sector due to the rapid increase in latex allergies being caused by latex gloves.
Although this material was initially viewed as a high-quality alternative for individuals that are sensitive to latex, it wasn’t long before users began to notice some other distinct advantages.
Nitrile gloves are extremely durable and have a superior puncture resistance to both latex and vinyl gloves, as well as a superior resistance against bacteria and harsh chemicals.
This increase in durability and decrease in permeability results in a much lower chance of cross-contamination between the glove wearer and those around them.
While the superiority of nitrile gloves is well known from a safety point of view, the increased cost of this higher-quality material has been a deterrent for aged care providers looking to stretch their budgets.
But new research has shown that lower-quality alternatives that are cheaper to purchase per glove, actually become more expensive than nitrile gloves over extended periods of time due to their propensity to fail, and need to be replaced.
Statistics show that vinyl gloves – which are commonly used in aged care -have a failure rate of up to 61%, whereas nitrile gloves have a failure rate of only 3%, making them more cost-effective in the long run.
The current Covid-19 pandemic that faces our planet reinforces the need for aged care providers and other healthcare professionals to choose gloves and other pieces of PPE on the basis of their level of protection.
Australian hospitals have long ceased the use of vinyl gloves for patient care due to the risk of cross-contamination, and this added level of safety and consideration is something that we owe to seniors living in aged care.