Doctors are filthy!

Well, I hope that title got your attention. I’m reacting to this, which is making my inbox go crazy this morning:

Doctors’ stethoscopes are contaminated with bacteria that can easily be transferred from one patient to another, a new study has found.

Researchers cultured bacteria from the fingertips, palms and stethoscopes of three doctors who had done standard physical examinations on 83 patients at a Swiss hospital. They tested for the presence of viable bacterial cells, looking specifically for the potentially deadly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The study appears in the March issue of the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

So far, people have excitedly send me versions of this story from USA Today, NPR, and NBC. To all of you, I say: chill.

Here is a study looking at contamination of doctors’ neckties. More than half of the ties in that study were contaminated with Staphlyococcus aureus. Of those, 62% were contaminated with MRSA. Have we fixed this issue?

Here is a study looking at contamination of health care workers’ white coats. (By the way, I refuse to wear one of those.) About 25% of the white coats were found to be contaminated with Staphlyococcus aureus. Of those, 18% were contaminated with MRSA. Have we fixed this issue?

Here is a study looking at contamination of healthcare professionals themselves. Staphlyococcus aureus was isolated from 44% of them! They found it in the noses of 58% of paramedics, 41% of nurses, 39% of clerical workers, and 39% of doctors. MRSA was found in 7% of all healthcare professionals.

The bottom line is that this stuff is not uncommon. Moreover, the things we take from one room to the next that could come into contact with patients (ie white coats and neckties) are going to get contaminated. If we want to fix this issue, that’s fine, but stethoscopes are the tip of the iceberg.


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