Your Hospital Infection Could be Coming From Your Doctor’s Stethoscope

stethoscopeAccording to a recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, there is one surprising way that illness-causing bacteria and viruses are often being spread from patient to patient in hospital settings. Research by Didier Pittet and his team of researchers at the University of Geneva Hospitals found that the stethoscopes doctors use to conduct exam were consistently contaminated, more so than the doctors’ gloves.

Pittet explains that this problem is easily solved by sterilizing stethoscopes with alcohol-based sanitizers or other sanitation devices after each patient, yet in practice this is something that rarely occurs.

“Physicians forget to clean their hands quite frequently, even in the best places,” says Pittet. “When they forget to clean their hands, they certainly forget to disinfect their stethoscope.”

One of the more troubling finds of the study was the implication that doctors are almost definitely carrying MRSA from patient to patient. MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that is difficult to treat. The study found that MRSA was on doctors’ hands after 38 of 50 exams, and in most cases it was also detected in substantial concentrations on stethoscopes.

Although hospital-related infections are currently on the decline, it’s worth noting that about one in 25 patients who come to a hospital will end up getting infected there. In 2011, over 700,000 patients ended up with an infection. It’s been noted that there are many easy changes that hospitals can make in order to reduce the rate of infection among patients.

An increased awareness of the ease of pathogen-transfers, especially among those with a weak immune system, has spurred many people to look into different options for disinfectants. It’s important to keep both workplaces and homes sanitary, especially if these are environments the very young or the elderly will frequent. In a recent survey of American homes, NSF found that 26% of showers and bathtubs were home to staphylococci, which can cause UTIs and skin lesions. Staphylococci, though, can be kept at bay with a simple shower spray.

Over four million parents already live with their adult children in the U.S., and many baby boomers are reaching the age where they are moving back in with younger, grown children who can take care of them. These homeowners should ready themselves and their homes by ensuring clean rooms that are unlikely to harbor any potentially dangerous pathogens.

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