[EXPERT REACTION] Can gloves protect you from COVID-19?

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As COVID-19 continues to spread, wearing face masks is now a common practice, especially in supermarkets and public places. Some even take a step further by wearing disposable gloves to protect themselves from the coronavirus. But are they necessary? We ask experts:

“Can gloves protect you from COVID-19?


Associate Prof. Dr Chan Yoke Fun, Virologist & Senior Lecturer at the Department of Medical Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, said:

“There are only 2 strong recommendations to date, wash your hands with soap and social distancing. Other methods may work but the evidence is limited. I believe the public wears gloves to avoid contamination. In reality, only staff engaged with patient, environmental cleaning and waste management of COVID-19 patients should wear gloves. Wearing gloves could pose a danger if people still touch their face with the contaminated gloves. Also, gloves, as well as masks, should be reserved for healthcare workers who need them the most, and not to be used widely.”

Dr Vinod RMT Balasubramaniam, Virologist & Senior Lecturer at Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine & Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia, said:

“Generally, proper Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) help to contain the spread/transmission of the SARS CoV-2. However, it should be properly administered and disposed. The use of a proper rubber/latex gloves generally protects us from getting COVID-19 since the virus responsible, SARS CoV-2 is able to remain active/viable in most surfaces especially in a place like supermarkets where there will be a crowd and lots of movements. However, the use of gloves should only be single-use and should be complemented with proper face masks for better protection.”

Prof Dr Liong Min Tze, Microbiologist & Associate Professor at the School of Industrial Technology, Universiti Sains Malaysia, said:

“In general, any protective gear is useful to cover our body and reduce exposure to the virus. Viruses are extremely small that they can even infect bacteria. Thus, they can enter via even a small opening on our skin, such as a small wound. Our hands touch many things and thus once a virus is on our hands, and when we touch our face, it can enter via our mouth and nose. As per my video below (Part-2: Different Viruses), SARS-CoV-2 targets ACE-2, where its protein spikes can bind to the ACE-2 receptors. Some organs that are abundant in ACE-2 includes lungs, heart, kidneys and liver. Thus, the respiratory tract and lungs would be the primary entrance site for SARS-CoV-2. 

Part-2: Different Viruses by Prof Liong Min Tze

In the case of front liners, gloves are crucial as they are treating patients directly tested positive for COVID-19. They have very high chances of touching specimens and wards with SARS-CoV-2. Gloves in this sense will definitely offer some protection. More importantly, in a medical setting, once a medical staff needs to exit the quarantine area, he/she would need to remove all protective gears including the PPE outfit (if any) via the correct way and dispose them into designated areas. There is a flow of protocol on which item is to be removed first and last, to prevent double touching of, for example, unexposed clothes under the PPE suit by dirty/exposed gloves. Do bear in mind that SARS-CoV-2 can survive on a surface for some time. Recent data has shown that SARS-CoV-2 survived on surfaces of plastic, stainless steel, copper and cardboard for 4 to 72 hours.

For the general public, it is not necessary to wear gloves at all times as we are less in contact with SARS-CoV-2. We need to, however, keep washing our hands and apply sanitizers, and more importantly, lessen the tendency or habit of touching our face. Most soap does not deactivate the virus but detach it from our hands. The proper sanitizer such as those above 70% ethanol may deactivate the virus via dissolving the “skin” of the virus, but we also need a certain time, it is not going to happen as immediate as in seconds. These sanitizers can ‘coat’ the virus and prevent it from sticking on to our body.”

Advise from WHO on wearing rubber gloves as protection against COVID-19

SMC checked:

There is limited evidence on the benefits of wearing gloves to prevent infections for the average citizen. So far, neither WHO nor CDC has made any suggestions for the general public to wear disposable gloves to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. However, the CDC does recommend that people wear disposable gloves when caring for someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 especially when handling their laundry and when coming into contact with bodily fluids.

Wearing gloves to do your food shopping could be doing more harm than good as seen in a video that went viral recently where a nurse from Michigan demonstrated how the virus spread using gloves. Besides, our healthcare front liners need the gloves more than we do.

Bionotes of experts

Associate Professor Dr Chan Yoke Fun is a virologist focused on the epidemiology and pathogenesis of enterovirus A71, an emerging virus that causes severe neurological disease. She leads a laboratory with research interests in epidemiology and pathogenesis of emerging viruses such as enterovirus A71, chikungunya, and respiratory viruses. With more than 20 years of research experience, she has over 80 publications, and has been involved in many research programs and grants at both national and international levels. Dr. Chan also served as an Associate Editor of BMC Infectious Diseases and guest editor in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases. She has multiple joint publications with collaborators from Asia, Europe, and the USA. Her studies have led to a better understanding of how viruses spread and infect humans. 

Dr Vinod RMT Balasubramaniam graduated from Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology (AIMST) majoring in Biotechnology in 2007. During this period, he managed to publish several papers on plant genetic engineering, especially on genetically engineered orchids which have resistance towards fungus. In 2008, he worked as a research assistant with Associate Professor Sharifah Syed Hassan in her newly formed infectious disease laboratory in Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University Malaysia. He embarked on his PhD course working on the various host cellular genes infected with Avian Influenza Virus H5N1 and their protein-protein interactions with viral genes. Graduated with merit in 2014, he continued to work as a post-doctoral fellow before joining Professor Adolfo Garcia-Sastre’s laboratory in Mount Sinai hospital New York, which is one of the leading Influenza research laboratory in the world. He has co-authored various publications (Cell Host Microbe, Nature Microbiology, Plos Pathogens) on various aspects of host response towards different types of viruses.

Prof Dr Liong Min Tze obtained her PhD in Food Microbiology and Safety from Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia in 2006 before joining Universiti Sains Malaysia. Her research emphasizes on probiotics, prebiotics, nutraceuticals and the utilization of agricultural wastes for the production of by-products. Dr Liong has published over 80 papers in international peer-reviewed journals and she is also on the Editorial Board of several international journals and has reviewed over 100 journal manuscripts for reputable international journals. She has also delivered keynote and plenary lectures both nationally and internationally. Dr Liong was named one of the three top young women scientists in Malaysia (2007) by FWIS L’Oreal-UNESCO. She was also awarded the IAP Young Scientist, to represent Malaysia at the World Science Forum in Budapest to pitch for changes in science policies in the Hungarian Parliament (2015). In 2016, Dr Liong was named as one of the Top Research Scientist Malaysia, awarded by Academy of Sciences Malaysia (ASM). 

**All previous posts about COVID-19 here: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/covid-19/

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