Abracadabra! You can now transcend the risk of all contamination with the use of magical gloves!
During the peak of the COVID pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for me to see individuals walking around my neighborhood grocery store wearing disposable gloves. Fear fed this behavior. Customers would place the gloves on while still seated in their cars. They would then open and close their car doors, push a grocery cart or carry a basket, and proceed to place their produce and grocery items, one by one, into their cart or basket. At the check-out line, they would reach into their purses or wallets for either paper money or a credit card, handing the payment method to the cashier (who was more than likely, also wearing a pair of disposable gloves). The customer would then push their carts to their car, unload their groceries into their trunks, open their car doors, snap on their seat belts, and start the car engine, all while still wearing the same pair of disposable gloves. This is a mindset known as the Magic Glove Syndrome. It is the belief that, somehow, the wearing of the gloves eliminates the risk of contamination, regardless of the surfaces encountered. We witnessed this at the height of the pandemic in our communities. Currently, the inappropriate use of disposable gloves is ever present on our favorite TV crime shows, and daily in our medical clinics and hospitals.
The Magic Glove Syndrome is not a product of the COVID pandemic.
I have witnessed this in every office I have worked for the past 25 years. I have watched novice and seasoned medical personnel struggle with this mindset. They don a pair of non-sterile clinical gloves (NSCG) from a box on the wall and return to their computer to complete their documentation. They then proceed to set up the materials needed for a biopsy, grab a camera out of their scrub pocket to photograph the anatomical site and anesthetize the biopsy site. If I don’t return to the exam room immediately, many will open the door with their gloved hand, walk out of the room, head to the nurse’s station to grab a stool to sit on, and wait. Sometimes, they’ll even access the desktop computer to catch up on chart notes. My heart cringes at all the surfaces encountered!
There have been a handful of studies over the years looking at the misuse of NSCG. Several of them report the use of NSCG in situations that were not appropriate (no risk of contact with blood or body fluids) as well as evidence of cross-contamination. For example, one study reported inappropriate use of NSCG in 42% of the cases evaluated, resulting in cross-contamination in 37%.1 Another study revealed inappropriate use in 59% of the cases, and cross-contamination in 49% of the situations.2
So, when is the use of NSCG appropriate in order to reduce the risk of cross-contamination? The World Health Organization has simplified the guidelines.
Medical gloves are recommended to be worn for two main reasons:
1. To reduce the risk of contamination of health care workers’ hands with blood and other body fluids.
2. To reduce the risk of germ dissemination to the environment and of transmission from the health care worker to the patient and vice versa, as well as from one patient to another. ”
In addition, NSCG are single-use only and are to be donned immediately before and removed immediately after the previously mentioned situations. The World Health Organization also recommends washing your hands before and after donning NSCG. It helps reduce the risk of contaminating that box of gloves hanging on the wall.
So, the bad news is: there is no magic in those gloves hanging on the wall. The magic lies in appropriate use, resulting in infection prevention for us and our patients.
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- Clinical glove use: health care workers’ actions and perceptions. Loveday et al. American Journal of Infection Control; 2014 Feb; 86(2): 110-6
- Applying human factors and ergonomics to the misuse of nonsterile clinical gloves in acute care. Wilson et al. American Journal of Infection Control; Volume 45, Issue 7, P779-786, July 01, 2017
- The misuse and overuse of non-sterile gloves: application of an audit tool to define the problem. Wilson et al. Journal of Infection Prevention 2015 Jan; 16(1): 24-31
- WHO – Glove Use Information Leaflet