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Hand protection for global health concerns

Supplier: Showa
22 April, 2008

Over the last decade, a number of global crises have created a myriad of health and safety concerns for people all over the world.

From the destructive force of natural disasters to the health concerns of pathogenic microorganisms such as the H5N1 virus (Avian Flu), ensuring safer, more secure environments is more important than ever before.

Protecting workers' hands from contaminants is an important part of any clean-up or response effort, and there are specific features to consider depending on the type of situation and materials encountered.

Avian Influenza

Concern over Avian Influenza (known as the Bird Flu) has risen with international attention from the news media and the scientific community. Bird Flu is caused by the H5N1 virus. At the present time, this virus primarily affects birds, although humans have been infected and have died from it. Mutation of the virus into a form that can infect humans has caused major concern for almost eight years.

NFPA 1999 Certified gloves for Emergency Medical Operations are also needed for working in areas that could potentially be contaminated by Avian Influenza. A major portion of this NFPA standard requires that gloves must pass ASTM F1671 "Standard Test Method for Resistance of Materials Used in Protective Clothing to Penetration by Blood-Borne Pathogens Using Phi-X 174 Bacteriophage Penetration as a Test System."

The Bacteriophage Phi-X 174 is a model virus that is used not only because it is nonpathogenic, but it is extremely small in size. It is the smallest known virus (0.027 micrometers in size). Avian Influenza is also a virus which is 0.08 micrometers or about 3 times larger in size than the Bacteriophage Phi-X 174. When used properly, gloves provide excellent protection, but gloves should not be relied on exclusively.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the use of the following Personal Protective Equipment by everyone providing patient care, including family members:

  • Masks (N-95)
  • Gloves
  • Gloves and Aprons
  • Hair Covers
  • Protective Goggles
  • Boots or shoe covers

Although gloves are an integral part of a Personal Protective Equipment ensemble, gloves should not be relied upon as the sole protection from infectious diseases. They are just one part of a protection ensemble. The full ensemble of PPE recommended by WHO should also be worn by cullers and animal husbandry/veterinary staff who may work with infected birds.

All of the people who may come into contact with infected animals or humans should keep exposure to the animals or person at an absolute minimum. The proper PPE must be worn and must be disposed of properly to avoid any contact with contamination. Hands should be washed as soon as gloves are removed and a 70% alcohol rub should be applied to hands after washing with soap and water.

Many studies have shown that disposable nitrile gloves hold up much better "in-use" than vinyl gloves, which may fracture and allow viruses to penetrate them. Nitrile has also been shown to be slightly superior to natural rubber latex gloves in similar studies. These studies were carried out in clinical settings, but the same information would apply anywhere there is potential for exposure to pathogens.

Nitrile's weak tear strength means that when a glove is violated, it will tear away immediately. Therefore, wearers do not continue using a glove with a pinhole in it that could allow penetration by viruses or other pathogens.

In many cases, personal protective equipment, including properly specified gloves, is the first line of defense against hazards resulting from natural disaster, hazardous material or biological contaminant clean up. Protecting workers' hands is an essential part of a good overall Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) program, and standards set by organizations such as the National Fire Protection Association make it easier to identify and select the appropriate glove for the task at hand.