Docs may have trick up their sleeves fighting germs

October 6, 2017

(HealthDay)—With antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" continuing to be a threat in U.S. hospitals, doctors are looking for innovative ways to cut down on disease transmission.

Now, research suggests one solution may be within arm's reach—literally.

Physicians' white coats with sleeves above the elbow were much less likely to have traces of infectious viruses on them than long-sleeved versions, the study found.

"These results provide support for the recommendation that health care personnel wear short sleeves to reduce the risk for pathogen transmission," concluded a team led by Amrita John. She's an infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

According to the team, "physicians' white coats are frequently contaminated, but seldom cleaned."

For that very reason, the United Kingdom already mandates that doctors be "bare below the elbows" as a means of lowering the chance that germs on a dirty coat sleeve will be transmitted to a patient.

But is sleeve length really a factor in the transmission of infections?

To find out, John's group had wear either short- or long-sleeved white coats while examining a mannequin with surfaces that had been contaminated with a harmless-but-communicable virus.

The workers then went and examined a second mannequin—replicating normal hospital "rounds" where doctors might visit numerous patients.

The researchers then tested both the sleeves and the wrists of each worker for a certain "DNA marker" that indicated the presence of the virus.

The result: "contamination with the DNA marker was detected significantly more often on the sleeves and/or wrists when personnel wore long- versus short-sleeved coats," the researchers reported.

In fact, while virus was detected on none of the sleeves or wrists of 20 workers wearing the short-sleeved coats, it was found on one-quarter (five out of 20) of those donning long sleeves.

And in one of those cases, the virus had made its way to the second mannequin—showing how a doctor's sleeve might transmit germs patient-to-patient.

The findings add weight to the recommendation for short-sleeved coats for physicians, the researchers noted.

Dr. Alan Mensch is a pulmonologist and senior vice president of medical affairs at Northwell Health's Syosset Hospital in Syosset, N.Y. Reviewing the findings, he agreed that keeping in-hospital infections to a minimum is crucial.

"Patients come to the hospital to get well, and it is the hospital's duty to accomplish that without causing a new infection," he said.

He called the new findings "intriguing," but said they also raise many questions.

"Though short sleeves may prevent transmission of [viral] DNA, will they decrease infections?" he wondered. And, "Should we advise providers to wash their wrists along with their hands—and will that decrease infection transmission?"

The findings were presented Oct. 4 in San Diego at ID Week, the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Experts note that findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Explore further: Doctors and medical students in India should stop wearing white coats

More information: Oct. 4, 2017, presentation, ID Week, San Diego; Alan Mensch, M.D., senior vice president, medical affairs, Northwell Health's Plainview and Syosset Hospitals, New York

There's more on protecting yourself from infections in the hospital at the National Patient Safety Foundation.

Related Stories

Doctors and medical students in India should stop wearing white coats

July 21, 2015
Doctors and medical students in India should stop wearing white coats, argues a doctor in The BMJ this week.

Time for docs to ditch the white coat?

January 21, 2014
(HealthDay)—Could a doctor's white coat or necktie help spread germs among patients?

Infectious diseases experts issue guidance on health-care personnel attire

January 21, 2014
New guidance from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) provides recommendations to prevent transmission of healthcare-associated infections through healthcare personnel (HCP) attire in non-operating room ...

Hospital rooms and patients equally likely to transmit pathogens

October 27, 2016
Hospital rooms, not just the patients in them, can spread germs through contact with health care personnel, a Duke Health study reports.

Nurses' scrubs often contaminated with bad bugs

October 27, 2016
Bad bugs readily spread from patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) to nurses' scrubs and the room, according to research being presented at IDWeek 2016. The sleeves and pockets of the scrubs and the bed railing were the ...

Recommended for you

Creation of synthetic horsepox virus could lead to more effective smallpox vaccine

January 19, 2018
UAlberta researchers created a new synthetic virus that could lead to the development of a more effective vaccine against smallpox. The discovery demonstrates how techniques based on the use of synthetic DNA can be used to ...

Study ends debate over role of steroids in treating septic shock

January 19, 2018
The results from the largest ever study of septic shock could improve treatment for critically ill patients and save health systems worldwide hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

New approach could help curtail hospitalizations due to influenza infection

January 18, 2018
More than 700,000 Americans were hospitalized due to illnesses associated with the seasonal flu during the 2014-15 flu season, according to federal estimates. A radical new approach to vaccine development at UCLA may help ...

Zika virus damages placenta, which may explain malformed babies

January 18, 2018
Though the Zika virus is widely known for a recent outbreak that caused children to be born with microencephaly, or having a small head, and other malformations, scientists have struggled to explain how the virus affects ...

Certain flu virus mutations may compensate for fitness costs of other mutations

January 18, 2018
Seasonal flu viruses continually undergo mutations that help them evade the human immune system, but some of these mutations can reduce a virus's potency. According to new research published in PLOS Pathogens, certain mutations ...

Study reveals how MRSA infection compromises lymphatic function

January 17, 2018
Infections of the skin or other soft tissues with the hard-to-treat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria appear to permanently compromise the lymphatic system, which is crucial to immune system function. ...

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.