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What Are Sterile Gloves?

Surgeons wear sterile gloves to prevent the spread of infection.
Sterile latex gloves.
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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Sterile gloves, commonly made of latex, are used by surgeons to prevent contamination and decrease the risk of infection for patients. They are typically packaged separately, with an expiration date noted on the packaging. Doctors and other health care workers practice precise procedures when putting on these gloves to ensure they do not touch anything not sterile. Once donned, the gloves should only come into contact with other sterilized areas.

In addition to protecting patients from the risk of infection, protective gloves are worn by people in other professions to protect them from disease. Police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians commonly wear gloves to protect themselves from diseases spread by bodily fluids, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The rapid spread of AIDS in the 1980s sparked the use of gloves outside the medical field. Gloves are usually included in routine equipment carried by people who respond to accident scenes or incidents where blood, saliva, or other bodily fluid might be present. They protect these workers from skin contact with these fluids.

As the use of gloves rose, more people discovered they were allergic to latex. Latex is a natural, milky substance found in rubber trees used in the manufacturing of sterile gloves. Gloves are produced through a dipping process using molds of different hand sizes.

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The forms are lowed into a vat filled with a latex mixture that clings to the forms. Once the sterile gloves are dry, they are washed to remove any excess latex. If the washing process is not done correctly, too much free latex remains on the gloves, which might cause allergic reactions in some people. In addition to sterile gloves, condoms and balloons are made via the same dipping process.

The powder used in latex gloves might contaminate the air when gloves are snapped to enable a tight fit. Some gloves are manufactured without powder to eliminate this risk of exposure. Synthetic rubber gloves are designed to replace latex sterile gloves for people allergic to latex.

One study compared the use of sterile gloves to clean, non-sterile gloves in emergency rooms when doctors repair minor wounds. The research found no significant increase in infection rates among patients treated by physicians wearing sterile gloves compared to those who worn clean gloves. This study concluded time and money could be saved by using clean gloves for minor wounds in the emergency room.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that sterilized gloves were available to surgeons. Before then, most doctors scrubbed and operated with bare hands or wore bulky fabric gloves. The early rubber gloves were boiled after use as a sterilization method.

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