The stethoscope has long been an iconic symbol of health care used for listening the body sounds. But while it’s an invaluable tool that every medical student must learn to use, it seems it’s cleanliness has got a problem.
That’s according to a new study that analyzed the DNA found on stethoscopes in an intensive care unit. Results showed that they were loaded with different kinds of bacteria, including resistant Staphylococcus.
Dr. Ronald Collman, senior author of the study, said that he wasn’t taught how to clean a stethoscope in medical school, and that he doesn’t know if it’s taught now.
The study highlights the importance of “adhering to rigorous infection control procedures” recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for decontaminating stethoscopes.
At the very least, he added, health care providers should be using the individual-use stethoscopes that are often kept in the patients’ rooms.
For the study, researchers tested practitioners’ stethoscopes and individual-use stethoscopes as well as clean, unused stethoscopes and stethoscopes that had been cleaned with standardized or practitioner-preferred methods.
Though the study did not look into whether the stethoscopes ever made patients ill, it did find high levels of Staphylococcus on more than half of them. Other bacteria, such as Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter, were also widely present on the stethoscopes, though in smaller quantities.
“There is bacteria in the environment all around us, so the presence of bacteria isn't a gross factor or inherently dangerous,”.
“Although these bacteria are not a common reason for hospital-acquired infections, evidence has shown that contaminated stethoscopes can contribute to infections."
The study might serve as a wakeup call for medical institutions to implement protocols for stethoscope safety.
“[The stethoscope] should be cleaned regularly and always between patients, using one of several EPA registered disinfectants,” Collman said. “At the very least, it should be thoroughly cleaned with 70 percent alcohol, which is always available.”
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