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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Doctor’s Hands Might Be Germ-free, But What About Their Scrubs?

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Extensive research has been published about the benefits of hand washing and equipment sterilization in hospitals. Unfortunately, little is known about the role doctor’s attire plays in spreading infectious bacteria.

In the United States, hospitals generally require doctors to wear "professional" dress, which includes ties and long sleeves. But, is this professional attire housing infections and spreading them to others? A 2004, study from New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens demonstrates a reason to believe so. The study involved comparing 40 ties from doctors and medical students with those of 10 hospital security guards. It was found that half the ties worn by medical personnel were a reservoir for germs, compared with just 1 in 10 of the ties taken from the security guards. The ties taken from the personnel harbored several pathogens, including those that can lead to staph infections or pneumonia.

Another study that was performed in a Connecticut hospital looked into the role that clothing plays in the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). The study found that if a worker entered a room where the patient had MRSA, the bacteria would end up on the worker’s clothing about 70 percent of the time, even if the person never actually touched the patient. The bad news is that MRSA can be transmitted to other though touching of affected objects, like clothing.

These studies are far and few between. Most experts are not sure if health care workers clothing can and are transmitting risky germs between patient. This area of study is lacking, but what experts do know is that germs can live for long periods of time on fabrics.

So how can the risk of transmitting germs through clothing be lower? In Denmark, hospitals have instituted procedures that require workers to arrive at work in street clothes and then change into work clothes at work. After their shift, workers are required to change out of work clothes and back into street clothes before they leave. The hospital then launders the workers scrubs for their next shift. Along with hand washing, sterilization, screening and clothing control, Denmark hospitals have fewer than 1 percent of staph infections involving resistant strains of bacteria, compared to 50 percent of some hospitals in the United States.

Typically, Hospitals in the United States encourage workers to change out of soiled scrubs before leaving work. But these encouragements tend to be lax, many hospital workers can be seen at grocery stores or in public still dressed in their work scrubs.

Unfortunately, with the cost of health care in the United States, hospitals are operating on tight budgets and can’t afford to provide clothes and shoes to every worker. Also, many hospitals lack the extra space needed for laundry facilities. This leads to workers not only having to purchase their own clothing for work, but transporting that clothing back to their home to launder. The likelihood that a health care worker wearing scrubs outside of work or transporting them home for laundry leads to infecting someone is low, but not at all zero.

Even though at this point health care workers clothing cannot be substantially linked to the rapid rate of infections in United State hospitals, common sense tells us that wearing freshly laundered clothing can only help the situation.

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured at a hospital contact us to see if we can help.