Beware The Stethoscope: Germ Alert

178515662Getting a routine checkup at your doctor’s office may increase your risk of infection, especially if your doctor doesn’t use proper hygiene techniques to disinfect her hands and her diagnostic tools.

Patient-to-patient transfer of germs is a serious threat and is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in hospitalized patients.  That said, stethoscopes are used multiple times every day to diagnose health conditions. They have the potential to spread germs from one patient to the next in a big way, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Geneva Hospitals and published in the March 2014 edition of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.


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Hand Germs Vs. Stethoscope Germs

University of Geneva researchers assessed the level of contamination on a doctor’s hands versus the level found on their stethoscopes after one physical examination.  In the study, 71 patients were examined by one of three doctors using sterile gloves and a sterile stethoscope.  Upon completion of the physical exam, researchers measured the germs that were found on the tube and diaphragm of the stethoscope and the fingertips, ball of the thumb, palm and back of the hand.

The results showed that the diaphragm of the stethoscope was contaminated with more germs than all parts of the hand except the fingertips.
Additionally, the tube of the stethoscope was more contaminated than the back of the doctors’ hands. Contamination of the stethoscope increased as the bacteria on the doctors’ hands increased. Contamination with various bacteria, including the potentially deadly bacteria methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), was found on both doctors’ hands and stethoscopes.

The researchers concluded that contamination of a doctor’s stethoscope is significant after a single physical examination and is comparable to the level of contamination that is found on a physician’s dominant hand. Point being, stethoscopes are widely used and should be treated as an extension of the physicians’ hands.

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Proper Hygiene Essential For Protection


The results of this study support the fact that hand hygiene should remain a top priority for healthcare professionals. It sheds new light on medical instrument hygiene. Proper hygiene is essential for medical instrument use, such as common stethoscopes.

Researchers suggest disinfecting medical tools before each separate patient encounter. In hospitalized settings, though, it may be easier to assign individual medical instruments to each patient since disinfecting before each patient exchange may be too challenging given efficiency expectations.

Clearly, though, proper hygiene techniques must be a priority to curb those germs from spreading. People in hospitals may be more susceptible to germs given their more vulnerable, weakened state because of illness. Keep the sanitizer flowing!