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Gowns and gloves may put health care workers at risk of illness

The public has become accustomed to the prevalent use of gowns and gloves in health care settings. In fact, seeing these items often gives citizens comfort about the quality of care and cleanliness of any given medical facility. The health care workers who make use of gowns and gloves believe these items will provide protection against workplace illnesses, but a new study says this may not be the case.

The study took place in Pennsylvania's close neighbor, Ohio, and involved 435 simulations in which health care workers were exposed to fake bacteria. The workers were asked to don sterile gloves and gowns and then smear fluorescent lotion on the gloves before wiping the material on the gowns. Then the workers removed their protective gear how they normally would.

The study's findings show that health care workers were largely unable to remove the protective gear without transferring the fake bacteria onto their skin and clothes. On the whole, the contamination rate was 46 percent. Specific figures include:

-- 38 percent contamination when removing gowns

-- 53 percent contamination when removing gloves

The study involved four hospitals and included nurses, doctors, and other staff members who could be exposed to biological contaminants while working. The findings show that staff members in all four facilities were about equally likely to become contaminated. Contamination is likely to occur when personnel failed to remove protective wear properly.

Until the technological world can redesign gowns and gloves to reduce contact contamination, health care workers should engage in training and practice caution while removing protective gear. In the meantime, the legal community can help health care workers who contract workplace illnesses with workers' compensation and potential third party lawsuits.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Study reveals why gowns and gloves can be so dangerous for hospital workers," Karen Kaplan, Oct. 12, 2015

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