Newspaper article

Physicians' Stethoscopes May Play Role in Transferring Germs among Patients, Study Finds

Newspaper article

Physicians' Stethoscopes May Play Role in Transferring Germs among Patients, Study Finds

Article excerpt

After a single physical examination, a stethoscope can become contaminated with more bacteria -- including potentially deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria -- than most regions of a physician's hand, according to a study published in the March issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Stethoscopes may therefore play a role in transferring bacteria from patient to patient, conclude the study's authors.

This is particularly troubling given that surveys have repeatedly reported that physicians seldom disinfect their stethoscopes between patients.

Study's details and findings

For the current study, 71 patients were given a standard physical exam by one of three physicians at the University of Geneva Hospitals, a large teaching hospital in Geneva, Switzerland. The physicians used sterile gloves and sterile stethoscopes.

After each exam, two parts of the stethoscope -- the diaphragm (the metal circular end that's placed on the body) and the outside of the tube (the part that connects the diaphragm to the headset) -- were tested for bacteria. Researchers also measured the post-exam density of bacteria on the backs, fingertips and palms of each physician's dominant hand.

They found that after a single exam, the stethoscope's diaphragm was more contaminated with bacteria than all regions of the physician's hand -- with the exception of the physician's fingertips.

In addition, the tube of the diaphragm was more contaminated than the back of the physician's hand.

The researchers then looked specifically at the contamination patterns that occurred after the physicians examined patients in the hospital with a known MRSA infection. They found similar results.

A route of cross-transmission

The patient-to-patient transmission of microorganisms -- particularly antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA -- is a major health issue in hospitals. …

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