Q. My doctor always washes his hands before an exam, but he never seems to wipe down his stethoscope. This makes me nervous, but perhaps I am being silly. Should I ask about the stethoscope next time?

A. Stethoscopes can carry all sorts of nasty bacteria (Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, July, 2011). We have always wondered why doctors who are scrupulous about washing their hands seem less concerned about cleaning their stethoscopes. Since a stethoscope goes from patient to patient and may hang around the doctor’s or nurse’s neck, your concern seems reasonable.

We recently learned about a clever new device called CleanStethoscope (Cleanint.com) that could make this process safer. After every exam, the provider slides the bell of the stethoscope into a holder that attaches magnetically to the shirt or white coat. The sponge insert is moistened with a disinfectant to kill germs and is replaced daily.

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  1. Cindy B.

    As for me, I have a bad lifelong habit of absent-mindedly chewing, licking, biting on all kinds of things, e.g., pens in the dr’s office, a bit of ketchup on the table at a fast-food joint… I never wash my hands as I don’t like them to get all wrinkled. I pop rocks (off the ground) into my mouth to see what they look like “shiny…”
    I also drink water from any creek or stream I care to and never boil it or filter it. And I never, never get sick! Now I’m 63, look 43, take no meds and have no health problems despite having broken 23 bones or so in violent sports accidents (parachuting, rock-climbing and “extreme” skiing, which I still do). I could rack this up to good genes, but I’m pretty sure it’s due to my habit of eating everything as a kid (dirt, cat poop, etc), being surrounded by many animals, and never having to take a bath except on Sat. night. Oh, I’m so glad I was raised like that!

  2. RJS

    I agree with MJW, in order for the human body to develop a resistance to a bacteria it has to encounter such. I am 61 years old and I don’t remember seeing my doctor sanitizing his stethoscope. According to the American Cancer Society the estimated deaths for cancer in 2010 was roughly 550,00 so I guess we should be more worried about bacteria than cancer.

  3. TQD

    MJW, have you seen what happens to someone who acquired an MRSA infection? It isn’t fun or pretty to experience. Google “MRSA” in the pictures and see what images come up.
    I can’t imagine a nurse or doctor going to a patient who has to stay in the hospital for a “few” extra days and telling the patient or family, “we didn’t want to be over-zealous about hygiene. We hope you don’t mind.”

  4. Dylan

    “I think we can be over-zealous with hygiene sometimes.”
    Tell that to the over 2 million people a year who die from bacteria they acquire from unsanitary conditions.

  5. JBG

    Better safe than sorry.

  6. Mw

    Until it is you.

  7. MJW

    I think we can be over-zealous with hygiene sometimes.

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