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Do Stethoscopes Transfer Bacteria?

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Stethoscopes might be an unrecognized source of bacterial contamination. Hospital acquired infections are responsible for roughly 100,000 deaths each year. Healthcare workers have been admonished to wash their hands thoroughly between patients to reduce the risk of infection. Although this effort is essential, it has not eliminated the problem.

A new study suggests that stethoscopes can carry dangerous bacteria, including Clostridium difficile or C. diff and methicillin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus or MRSA. Researchers at the Cleveland VA demonstrated that both kinds of germs are readily transferred to and from stethoscopes. The investigators concluded that, "Our findings suggest that stethoscopes may be an underappreciated vector for transmission of pathogens." They suggest that it might be helpful if healthcare workers cleaned their stethoscopes after examining patients by rubbing with pads or gauze containing alcohol. Perhaps patients should ask doctors and nurses whether they have cleaned their hands AND their stethoscopes before each examination.

[Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, Jan. 2012]

For a possible solution to the problem, see this entry on Cleanstethoscope

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4 Comments

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I was a beginning nursing student in 1959 and one of the things that we were taught was that any item can transfer bacteria and cause infection; for that reason we were ALWAYS to sanitize stethoscopes (and other items) after each patient use. WHY ARE WE JUST NOW RE-DISCOVERING THIS FACT?

Anyway, I guess we humans need constant re-education. THANKS!!

I saved this and the prev. stethoscope contamination article. I pasted them both on the WORD file I keep on my desktop titled "Dr. [her name] update". Any time I notice something I should tell her about on my next visit I add it so I have it written down as well as what I said previously. (it's getting pretty long) I print out only the addition since the last visit and take 2 copies (one for me) on the next Dr. visit.

So far she hasn't seemed to mind and it does provide me with a log of hard to remember details. (I have no idea what she does with the paper but she does talk with me about my written concerns.)

I don't know what she will think about sanitizing her stethoscope, we'll see on my next visit, Jan. 12th.

Haven't you seen medical personnel with a stethoscope dangling around their necks?? Has always bothered me. I have seen them near the UW hospital in Madison eating in the cafeteria or even at nearby restaurants... wearing their"scrub" (surgery clothes) and stethoscope dangling.

One would hope common sense would direct mindful, responsible behavior by medical staff!!

Wonder how often the waiting rooms/elevator buttons/bathroom light switches/remote controls are sanitized?

In this era of electronic medical records, my doctors, NPs and PAs carry their laptop computers around from room to room with them. I remember hearing that computer keyboards are often contaminated with a cocktail of bacteria.

The doctor examines, then uses the keyboard, washes their hands somewhere in there, but who knows what is being transferred and when. Just something to think about...

I like the electronic records, I'm just wondering if the computers will spread bacteria.

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