Dr. William Stewart Halsted, surgeon-in-chief at Johns Hopkins University, is widely credited for the development and introduction of the first medical gloves in 1890. In an era when more patients died from bacterial infections than the illness which prompted initial surgery, Dr. Halsted pioneered antiseptic procedures and the sterilisation of all medical equipment.
Halsted was appointed the first chief of surgery of the newly established Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1889. In the same year, his nurse Caroline Hampstead complained about contact dermatitis caused by the antiseptic mercuric bichloride. Dr. Halsted asked the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company to design medical gloves that could be dipped in carbolic acid and rubber surgical gloves were borne.
However, it wasn’t until 1964 that the first disposable medical gloves were manufactured by Ansell based on the manufacturing technique used for condoms. Disposable rubber gloves have saved countless hours of glove reprocessing, repairing and sterilisation. The modern rubber medical glove provides surgical staff with increased grip, comfort and sensitivity during operation procedures and prevents contamination which can lead to further complications.
Since 1980 the incidence of latex allergies amongst healthcare workers and patients has increased dramatically. This is largely attributed to increased medical glove use to prevent transmission of bloodborne pathogens, including the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) between caregivers and patients, as well as poorly regulated latex factories in tropical countries.
Medical manufacturers have since implemented the production of medical gloves made from non-latex materials such as neoprene, poly vinyl chloride (PVC or Vinyl), and nitrile that vary in fit, feel and importantly protection. Exact fit, protection level and usage are some of the factors that medical staff should consider when choosing the appropriate surgical glove. In an effort to make medical care safer for patients and healthcare workers, Johns Hopkins Hospital became the first major medical institution to become “latex safe” by abandoning the use of latex gloves and almost all latex medical products.