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The Effect of a Transition to Powder-Free Latex Gloves on Workers’ Compensation Claims for Latex-Related Illness

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Abstract and Introduction Abstract Background: Adverse reactions to natural rubber latex gloves are an important cause of workers’ compensation claims among health care personnel.

In an effort to reduce latex-related illness, our institution transitioned to powder-free latex gloves in 2001.

Objective: To examine the effect of this transition on the number of workers’ compensation claims for latex-related illness.

Methods: A review of claims data from 1997 to 2005 was conducted.

Results: The incidence of claims for latex-related illness was significantly lower following the switch to powder-free gloves.

Conclusions: The switch to powder-free latex gloves was associated with a significant decrease in workers’ compensation claims for latex-related illness.

The cost of gloves increased but was partially offset by a decrease in workers’ compensation payments and operating room expenses.

Natural rubber latex gloves are produced from the fluid of the Hevea brasiliensis tree and a variety of compounding chemicals.

Latex gloves are widely used by health care workers because of their desirable features of comfort, elasticity, flexibility, and barrier function against potentially infectious materials.

Complications of latex glove use include irritant and allergic contact dermatitis as well as immediate (type I) hypersensitivity reactions such as contact urticaria, rhinitis, conjunctivitis, asthma, and anaphylaxis.

Cornstarch powder has traditionally been added to the inner surface of latex gloves to increase the ease of donning; however, this powder has been shown to bind latex proteins,[7] and powdered gloves generally have higher extractable allergen levels than do powder-free gloves.

Some studies suggest that health care workers who use powdered gloves have a higher frequency of positive test results for latex sensitization compared with those who use powder-free gloves[9,10]; however, one prospective study found no difference in the incidence of sensitization to latex over 1 year between users of powdered gloves and users of powder-free gloves.

In addition to directly contacting the hands of the wearer, glove powder may be dispersed into the air, and the concentration of aerosolized latex allergen is higher in areas where powdered gloves are used,[11,12] potentially leading to exposure of other individuals in the surrounding area.

Finally, in addition to its role in allergic reactions, powder can be a skin irritant.

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