If your doctor is monitoring you with unhygienic stethoscopes, chances are that you may contract infections by antibiotic-resistant superbugs, researchers have warned.
Infection control guidelines from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention state that re-usable medical equipment, such as stethoscopes, must undergo disinfection.
However, the study showed that healthcare providers rarely perform stethoscope hygiene between patient encounters, despite its importance for infection prevention. Potential pathogens cultured from stethoscopes include Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Clostridium difficile, and vancomycin-resistant enterococci — responsible for diseases such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and skin infections, which can also be life threatening, the researchers said.
“Stethoscopes are used repeatedly throughout the day and become contaminated after each patient exposure, so they must be treated as potential vectors of transmission,” said Linda Greene, President at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) in Virginia, US. “Failing to disinfect stethoscopes could constitute a serious patient safety issue similar to ignoring hand hygiene,” Greene added.
In the study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, the researchers observed stethoscope hygiene at the start of a four-week rotation for medical students, resident physicians, and attending physicians at a tertiary care academic teaching hospital. The results showed zero occurrences of stethoscope sanitation among the staff.
“Stethoscope hygiene implementation will need more consistent efforts to change culture and habits. We believe that stethoscope hygiene should be included in all hospital hand hygiene initiatives along with increased accountability.”