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Hospital workers' gloves and gowns are filthy, study finds

A new study shows that a significant amount of bacteria are transferred when doctors remove their gloves and gowns, causing serious sanitary concerns in major hospitals across the U.S.

Sam Catherman, BABW News, Oct 13, 2015

When you go to the hospital, you do so expecting that the staff will be held to a certain standard of cleanliness. There are many different types of germs and diseases making their way around hospitals, and doctors are trained to take extra precautions to make sure these pathogens don't get spread to other patients.

According to a report from Reuters, however, they may not be doing such a great job. A recent study using fluorescent lotion and a black light has shown that the overwhelming majority of healthcare professionals contaminate their skin when removing protective gowns and gloves, also passing the risk of infection on to the next patient that professional treats.

According to the study's lead author Dr. Curtis J. Donskey from the Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, researchers found it as a surprise that the study's participants contaminated themselves so frequently while removing protective equipment. The majority of healthcare professionals who took part in the study didn't know how serious proper techniques for removing protective gear were, and were unaware of the risk for contamination from sick patients.

The study examined doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals like phlebotomists and physical therapists at four hospitals in the Cleveland area. Out of 435 simulations, more than half were carried out by nurses.

Participants in the study donned standard protective gowns and gloves like they normally would at work, and then received a small amount of fluorescent lotion, which they rubbed between their gloves and smeared across the front of the apron to simulate the spread of germs after interacting with a patient. They were asked to exchange the gloves and apron for a clean set of protective gear.

As the study's participants removed their protective equipment the way they normally would at work, the researchers swooped in with a black light to reveal how much of the contaminant was transferred to their bare skin.

The results were somewhat shocking - the researchers found that skin or clothing contamination occurred 46 percent of the time, and was most likely to happen as participants were removing their gloves.

The study also distinguished between participants who used proper equipment removal techniques, which include pulling gloves up over the wrist cuffs of the gown, removing the gown first by pulling it away from the neck and body, and saving the removal of the gloves for last.

Participants contaminated themselves 70 percent of the time when they removed their gowns and gloves improperly, but only became contaminated 30 percent of the time when proper procedures were followed.

The study highlights the importance of following proper procedures in a hospital setting. Each staff member who participated in the study was shown a 10-minute video and 20 minutes of demonstration and practice to go over proper gear disposal techniques. Contaminations fell from 60 percent to just 19 after the instructional settings, and a follow-up test one and three months later showed that these medical professionals were still observing proper technique.

Self-contamination is a huge problem for medical professionals, especially those working with deadly infections like Ebola. The glowing fluorescent lotion on the professionals' skin had a lasting effect, and highlights a serious problem in our hospitals.

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