Disposable gloves have revolutionised many industries, arguably none more so than medicine and the healthcare sector. In fact, medicine (specifically surgery) was the trigger for the use and development of disposable gloves, as the understanding of infection transmission and the importance of infection control evolved.
The use of gloves in medicine can be traced to the late 1880s and the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Dr William Stewart Halstead had devised new and exciting surgical methods, however, his nurse found that the chemicals she handled during surgeries were causing a rash on her hands. In response, Dr Halstead asked the Goodyear Rubber Company to manufacture rubber gloves for her to use while assisting in operations. These were a success, and the doctor’s entire surgical staff soon wore them for all surgical procedures.
At this point, the use of gloves was primarily for the comfort of medical staff. Most doctors and nurses still did not appreciate the importance of handwashing and sterilisation. Few bothered washing their hands between patients, and in the mid-1890s, 50% of all patients undergoing operations (even successful ones) succumbed due to related infections.
British surgeon Dr Joseph Lister discovered how to use chemicals (antiseptics) to destroy disease-causing germs. He applied Pasteur’s Germ Theory of Disease to surgery for the first time and applied antiseptic practices to prevent infection during and after operations. While they were not widely adopted until after 1894, the principles he developed are still used today.
From the 1860s, Lister had been working on ways to prevent germs from entering wounds by creating a chemical barrier. He ultimately chose carbolic acid, which eliminated germs on contact; this was used as weak carbolic hand washes and stronger carbolic acid baths for cleaning and sterilising surgical instruments. Carbolic acid sprays were also used to minimise microorganisms in the air surrounding the patient.
The proof was in the pudding, and doctors globally came to accept Lister’s work and the need for infection control during operations.
Surgical Gloves for Asepsis…
In 1941, the Ansell Rubber Company increased its commitment to the research and development of surgical gloves. The first disposable medical gloves were developed by the company in 1965 and these were sterilised before distribution using gamma radiation.
The AIDS Epidemic…
The need for robust hand protection in medical (and other) settings skyrocketed in response to the global AIDS epidemic of the 1980s-2000s. Disposable gloves became the cornerstone of infection control where any exposure to blood and other bodily fluids was a risk. From the mid-1990s, nitrile gloves became available and enhanced the protective qualities of disposable gloves as well as their comfort and usability.
While still intrinsic to medicine and healthcare, disposable gloves are now also used for safety purposes across industries – from food processing to sanitation, personal grooming to automotive, policing and many others – and they were even adopted by many people in their personal lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether you need gloves as part of your Perth dental supplies or disposable gloves for food preparation, this essential personal protective equipment has completely changed how we live – enabling us to live longer, healthier lives. The future evolution of disposable gloves will be exciting to see.