There are rumblings that glove wearing (aka “hand coverings“) are being considered as a widespread recommendation to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in public places (e.g. shops) in the UK. The message of this post is simple – please, no gloves. Convincing clinical staff of the unintended consequences of glove overuse is tricky enough. But widespread use of gloves in public places like shops may just bring me to tears. (Unless anybody can point me in the direction of solid evidence that this is likely to have a net benefit in reducing transmission…!).
The major problem with gloves is that they fuel a feeling deep within us of self-protection. When human being wear gloves, they feel more protected and so are likely to wear gloves for longer than they should and perform hand hygiene less frequently than they should (see this nice RCT showing that healthcare workers wearing gloves are significantly less likely to perform hand hygiene). During direct patient care in healthcare settings, wearing gloves should be very much the exception for a small number of specific tasks rather than the rule.
WHO, CDC, and ECDC have come down firmly in favour of frequent hand hygiene of naked hands and no gloves (outside of healthcare settings):
- WHO: “Is wearing rubber gloves while out in public effective in preventing new coronavirus infection? No, regularly washing your bare hands offers more protection against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.”
- ECDC: “There is currently insufficient evidence to recommend the regular use of gloves as a preventive measure in the context of COVID-19 to the public and to people in most occupations. Use of gloves in the community may lead to the misconception that hand hygiene practices can be neglected.”
- CDC: CDC recommends that gloves should be worn when cleaning and when caring for somebody who is sick. “Wearing gloves outside of these instances (for example, when using a shopping cart or using an ATM) will not necessarily protect you from getting COVID-19 and may still lead to the spread of germs. The best way to protect yourself from germs when running errands and after going out is to regularly wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.”
Like most of us, I’m finding it difficult to watch all of the poor use of face coverings and face masks (both inside hospitals and in public places). I’m not sure I could cope with the widespread use of gloves too! My advice to anybody who’ll listen is to think in straight lines about what you’re trying to achieve when using PPE or face coverings to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. I can see how wearing a face covering in a crowded public space may reduce transmission if worn correctly, but I really can’t see how gloves could achieve this. Even if everybody followed glove protocol to the letter, I’m struggling to see the benefit. But the reality would be far less hand hygiene and I’m certain this would result in more contact-mediated transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (and any other microbes that can be transmitted in this way). So, please, no gloves!