April 1998 Bulletin

Latex allergies/Laura Pelehach

States get bills to prevent latex glove allergies

Seek to ban gloves with powder particles

Latex allergies have fast become a serious problem for health care workers since 1987, when universal precautions were issued requiring them to wear gloves. Now, they also have come to the attention of some state legislators.

Bills in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, and Nebraska seek to ban health care workers from using gloves powdered with cornstarch or other fine particles, which tend to fasten to the proteins that cause latex allergies. On removal of the gloves, these particles can be cast into the air where they can be inhaled or come in contact with body membranes. The symptoms of latex allergies range from red-itchy hands and hives to difficulty breathing and life-threatening shock. People who have repeated exposure to latex, such as health care workers, are at greater risk for developing sensitivity. Extreme cases of latex allergies have resulted in death.

In February, a Wisconsin jury awarded $1 million to a health care worker in the first major latex product liability case in the U.S. Whether the bills will be debated on the legislature floor before end of session remains uncertain. A bill in Wisconsin is awaiting a vote in committee. In Minnesota and Nebraska, the bills remain in committee, while the Indiana bill has been on the House floor since the end of January, and the end of session is quickly approaching.

The federal government also has taken measures to alleviate the latex allergy problem, although it has stopped short of issuing a ban on the gloves. In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration set standards requiring warning labels to be put on latex products and is looking into regulations that would restrict the amount of powder used with the gloves.

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