Why Has Incidence Increased?

Universal Precautions recommend treating blood and body fluids from all individuals as potentially infectious.

The first published article relating allergic reactions to latex gloves appeared in 1933 in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the article, Dr. John Downing stated that he had seen two surgeons during the previous six months who had dermatitis on their hands corresponding with rubber glove use. He also described seven men who worked for a public utility company who wore rubber gloves eight hours every day. They all had redness, swelling, and fine vesicles where the gloves touched their bare hands. The same reaction occurred in two control subjects who had rubber gloves applied to their bare arms. Dr. Downing cited a letter he had received from the chief chemist of a rubber company that stated the company had received approximately 20 reports of dermatitis caused by rubber gloves in the last 20 years (taking documented occurrence back to 1913), and that he believed there were many more unreported incidences. The chemist also mentioned there were about the same number of reactions reported from other rubber goods in which the rubber touched bare skin.

It's apparent that latex allergy is nothing new, so why is it exploding into an epidemic now?

The HIV scare changed how healthcare workers thought about the use of gloves. With the recommendation of Universal Precautions in 1987 (treating blood and body fluids from all individuals as potentially infectious), gloves literally became a barrier between life and possible death. Latex gloves are considered the barrier of choice against blood-borne diseases, and the high demand for the gloves led to a change in the manufacturing process that allowed faster production. Previously, the latex was poured into a mold. Now, the gloves are dipped, permitting more of the latex proteins to remain in the gloves. The exact process differs between manufacturers, thus levels of latex proteins may vary among brands of gloves. The new manufacturing process provides a large supply of gloves for a low cost, which makes it easy for employers to choose latex gloves even for their employees who are not at risk for blood contact.

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