November 28th, 2011 | The Blog
According to a recent study by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), “More than 60% of hospital nurses and doctors uniforms tested positive for dangerous bacteria.”
The Testing Protocol
Swab samples were taken from the sleeve ends of long sleeve clothing articles, side pockets of short sleeve clothing and the abdominal regions of a cross-section of registered nurses (RN) and physicians (MD). Exactly half of the cultures taken were found positive for pathogens, including acinetobacteria (37%), methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) (13%) and enterobacteria (8%). MRSA was found on 6% of physician-sampled clothes and 14% of nurse-sampled clothes.
There was no major differences between bacteria findings on doctor versus nurse uniforms, nor were there any substantial differences between medical versus surgical departments, according to the American Journal of Infection Control. Clothes that were changed daily harbored fewer pathogens than those changed every two days. Keep in mind that physicians’ white lab coats are not routinely changed on a daily basis.
Passing Bacteria on to Patients
According to the 2011 APIC president, Russell Olmsted, “Any clothing that is worn by humans will become contaminated with microorganisms.” While patients are clearly in close contact with such bacteria, the study does not state that there is a true risk of disease transmission. Immunosuppressed patients are, however, at the greatest risk for disease transmission.
What Can We Do?
Frequent hand washing remains the best defense against germ transmission, but regular, daily uniform laundering will also help reduce disease transmission. Shedding the traditional white coats, wearing short sleeves and donning plastic aprons are a few additional suggestions made by the APIC to control bacteria on uniforms.
Note that a 2011 study conducted by the Journal of Hospital Medicine found no significant difference in bacteria counts based on sleeve length.
Male physicians wearing ties are targeted as germ carriers. There have been efforts to end tie wearing as ties collect germs, especially when leaning over a patient’s bed.
The Bottom Line
Wearing the same uniform or lab coat from patient to patient can harbor potentially dangerous bacteria exposure to patients. The most significant and attainable preventative measure for protecting patients remains effective hand washing when traveling from room-to-room, but daily clothing, uniform and/or lab coat changes can also significantly reduce bacteria exposure to patients.