Health workers’ protective gear potential source of contamination

By Laura Mize • Published: January 15th, 2016
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

The protective gear health care workers wear is meant to shield them… and others… from patients’ germs and bodily fluids, reducing infection risk for everyone.

But a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that the process of removing medical gowns and gloves often contaminates skin, hair or clothing… sometimes both. That’s because there’s a right way and a wrong way to shed the gear, and many providers don’t do it correctly every time.

For example, it’s best to put on a protective gown and then the gloves, making sure the gloves come down far enough to fully cover the wrists. To dress down, it’s proper to take the gown off first, pulling it away from the body… not over the head. Lastly, personnel must not touch the outside of a potentially contaminated glove during removal.

A study of doctors, nurses and other health professionals at four hospitals showed that contamination still happens about 30 percent of the time, despite proper technique.

The researchers studied the providers’ techniques by having them don the protective gear, then applying fluorescent lotion to it. After a worker removed the gloves and gown, the researchers turned on a black light to illuminate simulated contamination.

A simple education program on proper gown and glove removal reduced the number of contamination cases significantly for one subset of the personnel. They saw a 41 percent drop to less than one case for every five gear removals.

Yet there’s no way to ensure total success, so the researchers recommend disinfection with special U-V-C lighting to kill all germs when an especially dangerous pathogen is present. Better safe than sorry.