Physicians' stethoscopes more contaminated than palms of their hands

February 27, 2014

Although healthcare workers' hands are the main source of bacterial transmission in hospitals, physicians' stethoscopes appear to play a role. To explore this question, investigators at the University of Geneva Hospitals assessed the level of bacterial contamination on physicians' hands and stethoscopes following a single physical examination. The study appears in the March issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"By considering that stethoscopes are used repeatedly over the course of a day, come directly into contact with patients' skin, and may harbor several thousands of bacteria (including MRSA) collected during a previous , we consider them as potentially significant vectors of transmission," commented lead investigator Didier Pittet, MD, MS, Director of the Infection Control Program and WHO Collaborating Centre on Patient Safety, University of Geneva Hospitals. "From and patient safety perspectives, the should be regarded as an extension of the physician's hands and be disinfected after every patient contact."

In this study, 71 patients were examined by one of three physicians using sterile gloves and a sterile stethoscope. After they completed the examination, two parts of the stethoscope (the tube and diaphragm) and four regions of the physician's hands (back, fingertips, and thenar and hypothenar eminences) were measured for the total number of bacteria present.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A comparative analysis shows that stethoscope diaphragms are more contaminated than the physician's own thenar eminence (group of muscles in the palm of the hand) following a physical examination. Credit: Mayo Clinic Proceedings

The stethoscope's diaphragm was more contaminated than all regions of the physician's hand except the fingertips. Further, the tube of the stethoscope was more heavily contaminated than the back of the physician's hand. Similar results were observed when contamination was due to methicillin-resistant S.aureus (MRSA) after examining MRSA-colonized patients.

This work is the first to compare directly the level of contamination of physicians' hands and stethoscopes. Stethoscope contamination is not trivial and is comparable to the contamination of ' fingertips, the hand region most implicated in microbial cross-transmission. Physicians must be aware of the need to disinfect their stethoscope after each use.

More information: Mayo Clinic Proceedings DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.11.016

Related Stories

MRSA declines are sustained in veterans hospitals nationwide

October 29, 2013

Five years after implementing a national initiative to reduce methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) rates in Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, MRSA cases have continued to decline, according to a study in ...

Infectious diarrhea germs stick to healthcare worker hands

December 23, 2013

A new study finds nearly one in four healthcare workers' hands were contaminated with Clostridium difficile spores after routine care of patients infected with the bacteria. The study was published in the January issue of ...

Recommended for you

Experimental MERS vaccine shows promise in animal studies

July 28, 2015

A two-step regimen of experimental vaccines against Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) prompted immune responses in mice and rhesus macaques, report National Institutes of Health scientists who designed the vaccines. ...

Can social isolation fuel epidemics?

July 21, 2015

Conventional wisdom has it that the more people stay within their own social groups and avoid others, the less likely it is small disease outbreaks turn into full-blown epidemics. But the conventional wisdom is wrong, according ...

Lack of knowledge on animal disease leaves humans at risk

July 20, 2015

Researchers from the University of Sydney have painted the most detailed picture to date of major infectious diseases shared between wildlife and livestock, and found a huge gap in knowledge about diseases which could spread ...

IBD genetically similar in Europeans and non-Europeans

July 20, 2015

The first genetic study of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to include individuals from diverse populations has shown that the regions of the genome underlying the disease are consistent around the world. This study, conducted ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.