When doctors wear latex gloves, they may actually be covering up germs on their hands. According to a new study of hand hygiene in hospitals, wearing latex gloves makes health care workers less likely to clean their hands before and after treating patients.

The study results are concerning because there is potential for germs to travel through latex, and according to the New York Times reports, the gloves are often worn when doctors work with bodily fluids and the sickest, most infectious patients. Taking off latex gloves can also cause a "back spray" effect, in which fluids and germs are snapped back onto the wearer's hands. As a result, doctors and nurses who don't wash up after using latex gloves can spread infections through contaminated hands.

The researchers found that the overall handwashing rate — regardless of whether gloves were worn — was just 47.7 percent. But when gloves were used, the latest study found, handwashing went down even further, to about 41 percent.

The study found that health care workers wore gloves in roughly a quarter of all contacts with patients, and in 60 percent of those cases did not clean their hands either before or after treating the patient. Many of the interactions that were observed in the study took place in intensive care wards filled with elderly patients.

It was unclear why doctors, nurses and other hospital workers were less likely to wash or disinfect their hands before and after donning gloves. But researchers speculated that they might be influenced by a widespread misconception that gloves are impermeable to pathogens. While gloves do lower the rate of hand contamination, germs can still get through.

Read this full report here.