ERJ staff report (SS)
Baltimore, Maryland -- The Johns Hopkins Hospital has become the first major medical institution to banish the use of all medical latex products in a bid to become â€œlatex safe.â€
The hospital, which is credited as being the first medical institution to develop and introduce rubber surgical gloves in the US, in 1894, is now removing all of its latex products â€œin an effort to make medical care safer for patients and health care workers,â€ who have been effected by allergic reactions to the protein.
Robert Hamilton, PhD and Franklin Adkinson MD, both immunologists at the hospital, we the first to raise concerns when they conducted early key research related to the problems of natural rubber latex as an allergen.
Studies show that roughly 6 percent of the general population and up to 15 percent of health care works are allergic to latex, with the higher rate among medical personnel due to longer periods of contact with natural rubber.
The hospital said that children with conditions such as bladder exstrophy or spinal bifida can have as high as an 80 percent chance of developing an allergic reaction to the natural rubber latex.
The allergy can result in anaphylactic shock, similar to those caused by foods such as peanuts or by bee sting allergies, and symptoms can include a drop in blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, swelling in the hands and feet and constriction of the airways and in extreme cases, it can lead to death.
â€œLatex hospital gloves were invented here, so it's only fitting that Johns Hopkins takes the initiative to promoting alternatives,â€ said Robert Brown MD, MPH and an anesthesiologist at the hospital, as well as the chair of the John Hopkins Hospital Latex Task Force, in a statement.
Though, he said he prefers the term â€œlatex safeâ€ to â€œlatex freeâ€ because removing all sources of natural rubber remains a bit of a challenge.
â€œWe are still searching the hospital for the few remaining medical latex products that we might have overlooked, although we can safely say that all major latex products that are a clear risk to health care workers and patients have been eliminated,â€ said Brown.
There are three types of replacement gloves currently available on the market - neoprene, polyisoprene or vinyl -- but they cost 30 to 50 percent more than latex gloves.
Johns Hopkins is now using sterile neoprene and polyisoprene gloves in the operating room because they have a more sensitive feel.
â€œThe sensitivity and fit of the new gloves are the same as what you get with latex gloves,â€ said Julie Freischlag, MD, professor and chair of surgery, in the statement. â€œUnless someone told you, you wouldn't know the difference. The only down side is that they are a little more expensive,â€ she added.
In addition to surgical gloves, latex is used in medical devices such as tourniquets, blood pressure cuffs and stethoscope tubes.