To reduce the risk of latex sensitization among healthcare workers, medical facilities in the U.S. and Europe have transitioned the majority of their glove usage from powdered latex gloves to powder-free nitrile and other synthetic gloves. Additionally, a growing understanding of what led to the dramatic increase in latex allergy has resulted in changes to modern latex glove manufacturing to further reduce the risk – lowering the latex protein content, and eliminating cornstarch powder.
Have these changes lowered the risk of latex sensitization in healthcare workers? Recent studies in Italy, China and Thailand shed some light.
A 10-year follow-up study of over 2000 healthcare workers in Trieste Hospitals in Italy was published in the May 2013 issue of International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health. The individuals represented 9,660 person-years of non-powdered latex glove use from 2000 to 2009. The incidence of latex sensitization was 1 case per 1,000 person-years. The researchers concluded that the rate of latex sensitization and latex-related symptoms was very low, “but subjects with allergic symptoms related to common allergens are at higher risk.” Non-latex gloves were suggested for these individuals.
In mainland China, powdered, natural rubber latex glove use is still widespread. To learn the prevalence and risk factors for latex glove allergy among clinical nurses there, information was collected from over 8000 female nurses in 35 hospitals in eight provinces. Almost 9% of the nurses surveyed had latex allergy. The study concluded that Chinese nurses are at high risk for latex sensitization, and that “low-protein, powder-free natural rubber latex gloves, or latex-free gloves should be widely adopted in China.”
A cross-sectional study of female nurses in Thailand also demonstrated the higher risk of latex allergy associated with powdered latex gloves. “Of 899 nurses, 18% reported health effects attributed to the use of latex products,” states the study. It concluded that when compared to data from developed countries, the continued use of powdered latex gloves in developing countries is associated with increased prevalence of latex allergy dermal symptoms.
Clearly, regular use of powdered latex gloves with uncontrolled levels of latex proteins puts individuals at much greater risk for developing latex allergy, while modern, low-protein, powder-free latex gloves and powder-free nitrile gloves are a safer choice.
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