• Stethoscopes 'spread bacteria including MRSA'
    Stethoscopes need to be disinfected regularly to stop contamination

News & Views

Stethoscopes 'spread bacteria including MRSA'

Feb 28 2014

Doctor's stethoscopes are responsible for spreading germs as they are often heavily contaminated with bacteria. A new study has suggested that stethoscopes should be disinfected after each use as they could be spreading contamination across patients due to the build-up of bacteria.

Researchers from the University of Geneva looked at the ways in which contamination can be spread by healthcare workers. According to the study, the equipment was found to carry as much bacteria as the palms of doctors' hands. The only thing that was dirtier than stethoscopes was doctors' fingertips.

It is possible that stethoscopes carry thousands of bacteria, including MRSA, which has caused a number of health problems in hospitals throughout the UK. In order to avoid the spreading of these germs, doctors should ensure that all their equipment is regularly disinfected, according to the study that was published in 'Mayo Clinic Proceedings'.

Dr Didier Pittet, director of the infection control programme at the University of Geneva Hospitals, said: "By considering that stethoscopes are used repeatedly over the course of a day, come directly into contact with patients' skin and may harbour several thousand bacteria collected during a previous physical examination, we consider them as potentially significant vectors of transmission." 

Researchers performed tests on the area of the stethoscope that is placed against a patient's skin, as well as the tube connecting this part to the ear pieces in order to assess the levels of bacteria. Doctors' dominant hands were also tested in four areas - the fingertips, two areas of the palm and the back of the hand. All of the readings were taken after the doctors had examined 71 patients.

As a control, three doctors used sterile gloves and a sterile stethoscope when performing examinations. It was found that the area of the stethoscope that is placed against the patient's skin was the most contaminated, indicating that the lack of sterilisation between patients could result in the spread of bacteria.

The researchers have said that further study into this area is required in order to understand what methods should be put in place to ensure that stethoscopes are disinfected correctly to storm the spread of germs.

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