Leave off white coat on hospital rounds; it could harbor dangerous bacteria

September 7, 2011

You may want to take off the white coat when you make hospital rounds each morning to avoid bringing more than your expertise to hospitalized patients. Some 60% of the time, traditional doctors? garb harbor dangerous bacteria, a recent study says. If you can?t bear to leave the coat behind, here are some tips on making it safer.

You may want to take off the white coat when you make hospital rounds each morning to avoid bringing more than your expertise to hospitalized patients.

A study published recently in the American Journal of Infection Control found that clothing traditionally worn by doctors and nurses harbored potentially dangerous bacteria in more than 60% of cases.

Researchers at a 550-bed, university-affiliated hospital collected swab samples from three parts of the uniforms of 75 registered nurses and 60 doctors by pressing standard blood agar plates at the abdominal zone, sleeves’ ends, and pockets. 

They found pathogens in half of all the cultures taken, representing 65% of the RN uniforms and 60% of the doctors’ white coats. Of those, 27 cultures-21 from nurses and 6 from doctors-contained multidrug-resistant pathogens, including eight cultures that grew methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Cleanliness of the garment did not seem to be the issue, according to the study, which said that 58% of participants said they changed their uniform every day and 77% rated the uniform as moderately to very clean. In fact, the most contamination occurred in areas of greatest hand contact, such as pockets and cuffs, which allowed recontamination of washed hands.

“The high prevalence of contaminated uniforms might be related to inadequate compliance with hand hygiene, given that the sampled sites (abdominal zone, sleeve ends, and pockets on the dominant side) are characterized by frequent hand touches,” researchers wrote, adding that more research needs to be done on the issue.

Study authors recommended the following tips to reduce contamination risks:

avoid white coats entirely or wear short-sleeved versions;
if you decide to wear a white coat, make sure it is laundered routinely;
improve hand hygiene practices; and
use plastic aprons when performing tasks that potentially put you in contact with bodily fluids

“It is important to put these study results into perspective,” said Russell Olmsted, MPH, CIC, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, which publishes the journal. “Any clothing that is worn by humans will become contaminated with microorganisms. The cornerstone of infection prevention remains the use of hand hygiene to prevent the movement of microbes from these surfaces to patients.”

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