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Contaminated Stethoscopes May Be Spreading Infections, Says Study

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Is a simple visit to a general practitioner exposing patients to infections? A new study revealed that stethoscopes are breeding grounds for diseases.

Bacterial Contamination On Stethoscopes

Researchers analyzed DNA found on stethoscopes used in a hospital intensive care unit. They examined a total of 40 stethoscopes: 20 traditional stethoscopes used by nurses and doctors and 20 single-use disposable stethoscopes found in patients' rooms.

They found that all 40 stethoscopes were teeming with bacteria including Staphylococcus, which can cause serious infections like pneumonia. Other bacteria such as Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter were also found to be common in the stethoscopes.

The study, however, did not investigate whether the bacteria on the stethoscopes infected a patient. However, Graham Snyder, medical director of infection prevention at UPMC, said that there is evidence that contaminated stethoscopes can contribute to spreading the infection.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology on Wednesday, Dec. 12.

Doctors Urged To Clean Stethoscopes

Ronald Collman, the senior author of the study, admitted that he and his colleagues were never taught to clean their stethoscopes at medical school. He hopes that their findings will serve as a wake-up call to medical institutions to start implementing protocols that will keep patients safe from hospital-acquired infections.

He suggests that 70 percent alcohol which is readily available should be used to clean stethoscopes in hospitals. Collman also said that stethoscopes should be disinfected with EPA-registered products in-between to avoid contamination.

In addition, the researcher added that disinfection of stethoscopes should be done by every health care provider, not just by doctors and nurses inside the intensive care unit.

"I think the results would be the same if we tested outside of the ICU because patients outside of the ICU are also colonized or infected with various bacteria," Collman told ABC News. "Also, many practitioners rotate in and out of the ICU settings."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a comprehensive guideline for disinfection and sterilization of medical facilities, including decontamination of air and surface contaminants. According to the public health agency, stethoscopes and other equipment such as scissors and blood pressure cuffs should be disinfected using EPA-registered disinfectants.

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