According to a study published in the September issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, the official publication of APIC (Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology), over 60 percent of hospital nurses’ and doctors’ uniforms tested positive for potentially dangerous bacteria.

Yonit Wiener-Well, MD, from the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel and his colleagues conducted a study in which they collected swab samples from three different locations on 75 registered nurses (RNs) and 60 medical doctors (MDs) uniforms. The swabs were obtained by pressing standard blood agar plates onto the uniform’s abdominal zone, sleeves ends and pockets.

Researchers at this 550-bed university-affiliated hospital discovered that over half of all cultures obtained, i.e. 65 % of the RN uniforms and 60 % percent of the MD uniforms harbored pathogens, with 21 cultures from RN uniforms and six cultures taken from MD uniforms containing multi-drug resistant pathogens, including eight cultures that grew methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

These findings reveal a widespread occurrence of antibiotic resistant strains in close proximity to hospitalized patients, even though the uniforms themselves may not present a direct risk of transmitting disease.

APIC 2011 President Russell Olmsted, MPH, CIC, explained:

“It is important to put these study results into perspective. 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.

New evidence such as this study by Dr. Wiener-Well is helpful to improve the understanding of potential sources of contamination but, as is true for many studies, it raises additional questions that need to be investigated.”

The risk of healthcare-associated infection (HAI) in some developing countries is almost 20 times greater than in developed countries, according to the World Health Organization, but even in hospitals in developed countries, such as Israel where the investigation was carried out and in the United States, the potentially deadly and expensive to treat HAIs occur too often.

The best approach for patient safety is HAI prevention, which can be achieved by applying proven prevention practices as part of a comprehensive infection prevention and control program developed by Infection preventionists working in cooperation with direct care providers.

Written By Petra Rattue