(WASHINGTON) -- In an effort to protect health care workers and patients from debilitating allergic reactions, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban latex and powdered medical gloves, citing health consequences that range from a mild rash to death, depending on a person's sensitivity.
"Large numbers of patients and large numbers of health care professionals have been adversely affected by latex, powdered gloves," said Dr. Michael Carome, deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group. "Direct contact with latex products can cause skin reactions and, in some patients, anaphylaxis."
Carome explained how small particles in the natural rubber can attach to the corn starch powder used to ease the gloves on and off the hands, and become airborne.
"When the gloves are snapped on or off, that latex can go into air," Carome said. "If a health care worker or a patient with an allergy inhales it, they can go into anaphylactic shock, a generalized allergic reaction with respiratory symptoms and a drop in blood pressure."
The petition is the third filed to the FDA since 2008, Carome said, and the second effort by Public Citizen following a 1998 petition to ban powdered rubber gloves. The watchdog organization argues that safer alternatives, such as powder-free synthetic gloves, have become widely available, and should be used in place of latex.
"More manufacturers have been making more of those gloves, because many hospitals are starting to require those kinds of gloves," Carome said.
Earlier versions of latex-free gloves were expensive and difficult to use, and the FDA cited both pitfalls in response to Public Citizen's previous petition.
But better materials and more competition among manufacturers have improved the quality and reduced the cost of latex-free gloves.
"Synthetic gloves and nonpowdered gloves are more expensive. But it can't just be a consideration of the cost of the gloves themselves," Carome said, adding that sick days, injury compensation and long-term disability claims should factor in, too.
"When you add in all those costs, we believe that the cost differential becomes much more neutral," Carome said.
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