Sterile Gloves

Today, sterile disposable gloves are in common use by doctors, nurses and medical aides; dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants; emergency medical technicians and ambulance drivers; firefighters and the police; venapuncturists (blood drawers) and lab techs; trainers in boxing, ice hockey and many other sports; ad infinitum.

It was not always so. Until late in the 19th century, most surgeons operated with their bare hands. A few doctors tried cotton or silk gloves but they proved impractical and impossible to sterilize.

The first surgeon to advocate the use of gloves that could be effectively sterilized was Werner Zoege von Manteuffel. He published an article on sterilized rubber surgical gloves to protect patients undergoing surgery from infection. The article appeared in 1897.

You have not heard of Werner Zoege von Manteuffel? He was born in 1857 in northern Estonia and was around 40 when his pioneering paper on sterilized rubber gloves came out. Two years later, in 1899, he became professor of surgery at the university in Tartu, the second largest city of Estonia (the first being the capital, Talinn).

That is all we know of Werner Zoege von Manteuffel, except for one thing. To wear boiled rubber gloves, he used to say, was to have "boiled hands."

Source: Based on I Kabin, BMJ 1998;317:1330

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Last Editorial Review: 7/7/2004