William Stewart Halsted, Johns Hopkins Hospital’s first head surgeon, invented rubber surgical gloves, and now the very same institution has instituted a moratorium on them.
It was at Hopkins that immunologists Robert Hamilton, Ph.D., and Franklin Adkinson, M.D., conducted early key research related to the problems of natural rubber latex as an allergen. Furthermore, Brown points out, the nurses and other frontline hospital workers have been instrumental in implementing the latex-safe policy and educating the staff. Studies show that roughly 6 percent of the general population and up to 15 percent of health care works are allergic to latex, with the higher rate among medical personnel due to longer periods of contact with natural rubber. In addition to surgical gloves, latex is used in numerous medical devices such as tourniquets, blood pressure cuffs and stethoscope tubes. The anaphylactic reactions, similar to those caused by foods such as peanuts or by bee sting allergies, can include a drop in blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, swelling in the hands and feet and constriction of the airways. In extreme cases, anaphylactic shock, which can occur minutes after the exposure, can lead to death.
Allergic reactions generally result from exposure to natural proteins, in this case proteins specific to natural rubber latex, a product from rubber trees.
Currently available replacement gloves are made of one of three synthetic products — neoprene, polyisoprene or vinyl, none of which contain natural plant proteins.
Johns Hopkins is now using sterile neoprene and polyisoprene gloves in the operating room because they have a more sensitive feel.
Press release: RUBBER GLOVES: “BORN” – AND NOW BANISHED – AT JOHNS HOPKINS
Podcast from Johns Hopkins on the transition to latex-free…