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Study: Stethoscopes Dirtier Than Physician’s Hand

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File photo of a physician with a stethoscope.  (Credit: Thinkstock)

File photo of a physician with a stethoscope. (Credit: Thinkstock)

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ATLANTA (CBS Atlanta) – According to a new study, stethoscopes carry more bacteria, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), than a physician’s hand.

After a physician’s exam, a stethoscope was found to be more contaminated with MRSA than all areas of the hand except the fingerprints, according to Dr. Didier Pittet, of the University of Geneva Hospitals in Switzerland, and colleagues. The fingerprints were the dirtiest.

The stethoscope averaged 89 colony forming units compared to 37 on the base of thumb, 34 on the base of the pinkie finger, and 8 on the back of the hand.

The researchers noted that most stethoscopes rarely get cleaned once a month.

“If we pay attention to hand hygiene, using an alcohol swab to disinfect the stethoscope between patients should have an impact on reducing a percentage of transmission from patient to patient,” Dr. Edward Septimus, of Texas A&M University in College Station and a member of the on antimicrobial resistance committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told MedPage Today. “However, most hospitals have a policy of leaving a dedicated stethoscope in the room of each patient with MRSA.”

Dr. Dennis G. Maki of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison noted in an accompanying editorial that “there are many more patients on that same patient care unit with undetected colonization – patients who pose a greater risk of spreading these microorganisms that patients known to be colonized or infected and in isolation.”

“Since skin normally harbors benign bacteria, it is possible that the levels of contamination they found might not pose a risk to most patients,” Skeptical Scalpel said in an email to the online medical news service.

Skeptical Scalpel noted that there was not any attempt to show how significant a factor that transmissions was in actual infections.

Skeptical Scalpel went on to suggest that the study could be just as much about hand-washing.

The study was published in the March issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

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