Stethoscopes are loaded with bacteria, study shows

PENNSYLVANIA -- A stethoscope is an invaluable tool that every medical student must learn to use, but a new study says it could end up making you sick.

The study was published in the Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, and analyzed the DNA found on stethoscopes in an intensive care unit.

The results showed that they were loaded with different kinds of bacteria, including some that can cause staph infections:

"The analysis showed all 40 of the stethoscopes in use in the ICU were significantly contaminated with a rich and diverse community of bacteria, including those related to common healthcare-associated infections, though it could not determine if the stethoscopes ever made patients ill. Staphylococcus, the bacteria responsible for Staph infections, was found in abundance on all stethoscopes, with more than half of them having confirmed contamination with S. aureus. Other bacteria that can cause healthcare-associated infections, such as Pseudomonas and Acinetobacter, were also widely present on stethoscopes, though in small quantities."

The study was conducted by Dr. Ronald Collman, a professor of medicine, pulmonary, allergy and critical care at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

The lead author hopes the finding will encourage schools to implement protocols for stethoscope safety and cleaning.

"This study underscores the importance of adhering to rigorous infection control procedures, including fully adhering to CDC-recommended decontamination procedures between patients, or using single-patient-use stethoscopes kept in each patient's room," Dr. Collman said.

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