The explosion in the number and severity of latex allergies began with the emergence of the AIDS epidemic as the Centers for Disease Control issued universal precautions advising health care workers to use protective barriers to prevent the spread of the infection. This resulted in constant use of the gloves by medical workers and a great increase in demand for cost effective gloves. Essentially, the quality of the glove making process decreased, increasing the amount of allergy inducing proteins excreted to wearers. Afflicted workers include physicians, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists, operating room personnel, laboratory technicians and ambulance attendants among others. Many of the most extensively trained medical professionals in our society are being turned away from jobs or forced to quit due to the potential health consequences. This situation has resulted in mass product liability litigation against the manufacturers of the latex gloves, employment discrimination suits against the manufacturers of the latex gloves, employment discrimination suits against employers, and voluminous worker's compensation lawsuits. Pursuit of these remedies has yielded mixed results, with some plaintiffs receiving multi-million dollar awards and others receiving nothing. As with most litigation, the outcome is rarely satisfactory to any party involved. This note first explores the nature of the latex allergy, followed by an explanation of the various types of litigation that have been brought by health care workers to obtain relief. In Part IV, this paper explores the issue of the latex allergy as a "disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Finally, it will propose that education regarding prevention and accommodation measures combined with proper government agency regulations will ensure the health of individuals who chose to pursue a career in the medical field, will protect consumers, and will preserve the strength of the health care industry as a whole. Most importantly, the value obtained in accommodating these highly skilled workers outweighs the costs incurred by medical employers and providers.
Note, Latex Allergy Crisis: Proposing a Healthy Solution to the Dilemma Facing the Medical Community, 18 J.L. & Health 135 (2003-2004)