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Gloves anyone??

Dairy Pipeline: November 2000

Ernest Hovingh
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Vet Medicine
Virginia Tech
(540) 231-5234

It is a very common recommendation by veterinarians, consultants and other advisors that milkers wear latex or rubber gloves while milking. Much of the thought behind this practice is that a milker's hands can harbor 'mastitis pathogens' (such as Staph. aureus) and that gloves should therefore help to reduce the transmission of these diseases. And even though there are not a lot of scientific studies supporting the practice it does seem to make sense, and in many herds milkers routinely wear gloves. Another reason that this practice is often adopted is that milkers appreciate the protection the gloves offer to their hands - protection from various chemicals, compounds and crud that they come into contact with in the course of their daily work. A recent "study of clinical mastitis in low somatic cell count herds" in the Great Britain (Journal Dairy Science, November 2000) has found some interesting results. Among other things, they found that low somatic cell count herds that used gloves during milking had an increased risk of clinical mastitis. So does this mean that it is time to throw the gloves in the garbage and start milking bare-handed? Not necessarily! First of all, as the authors correctly point out, it is impossible from this study to determine if these herds had an increased risk of mastitis because they were using gloves, or if they started using gloves because they already had a mastitis problem! But at the very least, this study should raise a flag about the proper use of latex or rubber gloves. Many herds that are using gloves during milking could be causing themselves more problems than they are solving! I've seen gloves being used that were covered in manure through much of the milking. I've seen foremilk (sometimes from clinically mastitic cows) being stripped into the gloved hand to check for clots and flakes - and then seen those hands prepping the next cow while still wet with milk from the first cow. It seems that in these situations a milker without gloves might be more likely to wash their hands once they became contaminated. So, if you're into the habit of wearing gloves for milking, that's fine - but don't forget to keep them clean! Get into the habit of washing or rinsing your gloved hands regularly. Have a bucket of warm water with sanitizer handy (and keep it 'fresh!') or use the drop hoses to rinse your hands when they become contaminated. (See, those drop hoses are good for something!!) Come up with some other innovative idea - but don't fall into the trap of thinking that gloves in and of themselves (dirty or not) will help prevent mastitis in your herd.

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