Nurses' scrubs likely aid spread of germs to patients, study finds

Nurses' clothing — especially sleeves and pockets — can play a role in the transmission of bacteria in hospitals, according to research presented at IDWeek 2016.

The study involved 167 patients who received care from 40 nurses during three separate, 12-hour shifts in the intensive care unit, for a total of 120 individual shifts. All nurses cared for two or more patients per shift and changed scrubs for each shift.

Researchers took cultures twice a day from nurses' scrubs, the patients and the patients' rooms. They cultured sleeves, pockets and midriffs of the scrubs as well as the supply cart, bed and bed rails.

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They found 22 transmissions of the same strain of bacteria. Of those, six were from patient to nurse, six were from room to nurse and 10 were from patient to room.

Transmitted bacteria included methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, among others.

The spots most likely to be contaminated were the sleeves and pockets of the scrubs and the bed rails.

"We think it's more common than not that these bugs spread to patients in hospitals because of temporary contamination of healthcare workers," said Deverick Anderson, MD, lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

He noted three actions that play a major role in stopping the spread of bacteria:

  • Hand-washing after every patient encounter
  • Using disposable gloves and gowns when treating patients with specific infections
  • Regular cleaning of patients' rooms

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