A Source Of Hospital Acquired Infection Hiding In Plain Sight

stethoscopes and infection controlHospital acquired infections can come from all sorts of places within the hospital, and infection control procedures try to keep these managed and under control. However, there are still numerous areas that are easy to overlook, or are just hidden in plain sight, and unnecessary infections are spread to patients. One of these overlooked areas was thought of during a recent study, and its prevalence and ability to spread infections is high. This area is hanging around ever doctor’s neck, and is used almost constantly- their stethoscope.


The report specified that stethoscopes are a problem because they are used regularly throughout the day, and become contaminated with each patient exposure, turning it into a vector of infection transmission.


Most infection control procedures recently focus on hand washing as the main way to prevent transmission of infection pathogens between patients and doctors, but stethoscope disinfection is ignored. Testing the surface of stethoscopes shows that even after a single exam they have the same levels of contamination as the physician’s hand, but there is no procedure to clean them, even if the doctor washes his hands.


Pathogens found on stethoscopes include Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Clostridium difficile, and vancomycin-resistant enterococci, and are even capable of transmitting MRSA.


The Center for Disease Control and Prevention specify that all reusable medical equipment must be disinfected between patients, including stethoscopes. Despite this, the researchers found zero occurrences of the physicians actually washing or disinfecting their stethoscopes.


The research team educated the physicians about the need to disinfect their stethoscopes, and told them that they would be checking back into their stethoscope cleaning habits, yet they still found zero occurrences of stethoscopes being cleaned and disinfected between patients.


Infection control procedures are an essential part of keeping a hospital running safely and smoothly, and keeping patients and staff safe and healthy. However, if there is a hole anywhere in the procedures then the whole system will fall apart.


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