Study: Your stethescope could harbor bacterial pathogens

October 1, 2008

Study: The vast majory of stethescopes may carry bacteria.

The vast majority (85.7%) of stethoscopes belonging to 43 senior physicians, residents, interns, and medical students in the pediatric division of a hospital in Israel were found to be contaminated with bacterial pathogens, according to a recent report. The findings were based on cultures and antibiotic sensitivity testing of swabs of the surface of stethoscope diaphragms for two consecutive days.

All but six bacterial cultures were positive. Almost half the cultures grew staphy-lococcal species, including one case of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Other frequently isolated bacteria included Sarcina lutea and gram-positive Bacillus species. Gram-negative organisms were isolated in nine different samples, including four with Escherichia coli, two with Pseuodomonas aeruginosa, and one with Acinetobacter baumannii.

Stethoscope contamination rates did not differ significantly among the various types of health care providers who were surveyed. Contamination rates also did not differ among the general pediatric ward, pediatric intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care unit, and pediatric emergency ward (Youngster I et al: Acta Paediatrica 2008;97:1253).

First do no harm – and that includes not taking a new infection to your already-sick patient. This study is a good reminder to clean your stethoscope, and to develop habits to keep it clean.

DR. BURKE, section editor for Journal Club, is chairman of the department of pediatrics at Saint Agnes Hospital, Baltimore. He is a contributing editor for Contemporary Pediatrics. He has nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with, or financial interests in, any organization that may have an interest in any part of this article.