Stethoscopes could pose health risk

People walking around in white coats and stethoscopes are generally considered to be medical personnel going committed to safeguarding health and saving lives. It now turns out that these professional symbols could in fact be harboring dangerous microbes that are unintentionally transmitted among patients during health checkups.

Studies show that stethoscopes and trailing white coats with long sleeves could be contaminated by a significant level of bacteria. In one study by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, stethoscopes used in intensive care unit were found to harbor high levels of several bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus that causes serious infections.

The researchers sampled stethoscopes from the medical intensive care unit at the University of Pennsylvania hospital. The stethoscopes included 20 traditional reusable stethoscopes that were carried by physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists. Researchers also analyzed 20 single-patient use disposable stethoscopes in patient rooms.

Of the stethoscopes that were repeatedly used on patients, more than half confirmed the presence of Staphylococcus, while other commonly found bacteria included Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter.

The study highlighted the importance of adhering to rigorous infection control procedures at medical facilities, including disinfection and decontamination procedures between patients, or using single-patient-use stethoscopes in each patient’s room.

Another recent study found that stethoscopes sanitation practices are often times forgotten among clinicians and many times, stethoscope hygiene and contamination are insufficiently addressed in policy guidelines and regulations.

This study adds to data from other studies that have discovered harmful bacteria on long sleeves of white coats and shirts, as well as on neckties that are potential causes for transmission of infections from one patient to another.

Statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that 1.7 million people in the US develop hospital-acquired infections, with 99,000 deaths associated with such infections each year, leading to an annual health burden of around $45 billion.