Stethoscopes: a potential vector of infection – includes editor note – adapted from the Annals of Emergency Medicine, September 1995

Stethoscopes: a potential vector of infection – includes editor note – adapted from the Annals of Emergency Medicine, September 1995 – Tips from Other Journals

Richard Sadovsky

Nosocomial infections are frequent in hospitals, and stethoscopes may be a source of infection. The frequent presence of Staphylococcus aureus on stethoscopes has raised suspicion of their role in the transmission of bacteria, yet there is a lack of recommendations for stethoscope hygiene. Jones and colleagues sought to determine the correlation between stethoscope cleaning measures and the extent of staphylococcal carriage.

Surveys regarding stethoscope cleaning practices were completed by 150 emergency department physicians, nursing staff and prehospital personnel. Each provider’s stethoscope was also examined and cultured. Various cleansing solutions were used, and the stethoscopes were cultured again.

None of the providers cleaned their stethoscope after each patient, while 48 percent cleaned the instrument daily or weekly, 37 percent monthly and 7 percent yearly. Seven percent never cleaned their stethoscope. Cultures from 133 (89 percent) of the stethoscopes grew staphylococci, with 25 (19 percent) yielding S. aureus. Cleaning the stethoscope reduced the colony counts. There was no significant difference between alcohol swabs, antiseptic soap and nonionic detergent in terms of reduction of the bacterial count.

The authors conclude that most stethoscopes are contaminated with staphylococcal species. Colony counts are significantly reduced by frequent cleaning with alcohol or nonionic agents. (Annals of Emergency Medicine, September 1995, vol. 26, p. 296.)

Editor’s NOTE: Here is a simple and sensible hygiene practice that is important when a stethoscope touches many different persons in a day. Risk of bacterial transmission appears highest in susceptible patients, such as those with major bums. Stethoscope hygiene is an easy way to elate a potential vector of infection. Cleansing daily or weekly appears most effective. – Richard Sadovsky, M.D.

COPYRIGHT 1995 American Academy of Family Physicians

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