Gloves: A Substitute for Hand Hygiene or a Dangerous False Sense of Security?

By Madison Pittman

There is a common and widespread misconception that wearing gloves is an adequate protection from COVID-19. This disturbing trend is everywhere. From patient rooms in hospitals to the produce aisle of the grocery store, in addition to masks, many people are wearing gloves as they go about their routine activities.

In reality, the highly contagious coronavirus can live on the outside of gloves and other surfaces. Healthcare professionals that think they’re protected may leave their gloves on when leaving one patient’s room and entering another which increases the risk of cross contamination. They can even infect themselves if they rub their eyes or touch their face while wearing contaminated gloves.

While gloves can often provide much needed protection against blood or other bodily fluids, they also can provide a dangerous false sense of security in the hospital since providers often do not clean their hands as often when wearing gloves.

“Gloves are not a substitute for hand hygiene – they require you to wash your hands more.”

-Dr. Chris Hermann, MD, PhD

Founder and CEO, Clean Hands – Safe Hands

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes it very clear that gloves do not eliminate the need for proper hand hygiene. Their guidelines for glove use during COVID-19 are as follows:

PPE Guidelines According to the CDC

Who needs to don PPE?

  • Patients with confirmed or possible COVID should wear a face mask
  • Providers evaluating patients with confirmed or possible COVID

How to don PPE:

  • Gather PPE
  • Perform hand hygiene using sanitizer
  • Put on isolation gown
  • Put on NIOSH-approved N95 filtering face piece respirator or face mask if respirator is not available
  • Put on face shield or goggles
  • Put on gloves

When removing PPE, hand hygiene should be performed after removing gloves and after removing respirator/face mask

Gloves are typically only needed when caring for someone who is sick. Hands should be washed as soon as gloves are removed.

Many providers are simply not aware of their hospital’s hand hygiene policies when wearing gloves. Even highly experienced doctors often do not realize that they are required to clean their hands before and after putting on gloves and after removal. In a meeting with Clean Hands – Safe Hands, a well-respected doctor who is on the hospital’s infection control and quality control boards, made this common mistake, saying:

“I love the system, but every time I take my gloves off, [the Natural Language Voice Reminder™] tells me to wash my hands. Is there any way you guys can fix that?”

The hospital’s infection prevention director stepped in to explain why hand hygiene is necessary after glove removal. The physician started washing his hands after glove removal, and the problem was solved.

Many clinicians wonder why they need to clean their hands when they’re wearing gloves. The short answer is that they need to sanitize their hands before wearing gloves because the gloves used for routine patient care are not put on in a sterile manner. Think about it – clinicians blindly reach in and grab gloves from the box and then hurry to put them on. In this process, hands touch gloves when putting them on. If hands aren’t clean, any organisms on them will be transferred to the outside of the glove

Clinicians must also sanitize their hands after wearing gloves because it’s very difficult to remove gloves without contaminating hands during removal. This transfers organisms from the gloves to skin. A recent study demonstrated that 52.9% of glove removals resulted in contaminating either skin or clothing.

One of the most common and dangerous misperceptions we see is the belief that gloves help reduce the spread of HAIs. Over the past few months we have all seen people wearing gloves out in public, but the reality is that wearing gloves does not prevent the spread of infections. Infectious organisms can live on the outside of gloves just as easily as they can live on your hands. Gloves can help if you wear them for a specific task or patient and then immediately remove. However, if you keep wearing them between patients or aisles in the grocery store all you have done is cross contaminate everything.

Still not sure about gloves and hand hygiene? Check out the clip below which, while funny, depicts the transfer of infections on hands without proper hand hygiene.

Fortunately, real – time voice reminders are proven to help providers learn and remember to clean their hands properly when wearing gloves. To learn more about getting Clean Hands – Safe Hands voice reminders in your hospital, contact us.

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