Study: Antimicrobial nursing scrubs ineffective at limiting bacterial contamination

Nursing scrubs with antimicrobial properties do not prevent bacterial contamination in healthcare settings, according to a study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

For the study, researchers from Durham, N.C.-based Duke University Hospital examined 40 nurses who wore three types of scrubs for three consecutive 12-hour shifts. Nurses either wore traditional cotton-polyester scrubs, scrubs with silver-alloy in its fibers or scrubs treated with a combination of antibacterial materials. The nurses, who all worked on medical and surgical intensive care units, did not know which scrub type they were wearing.

Researchers took cultures from the nurses' scrubs, patients and the environment before and after each shift. They found no difference in contamination levels between the three scrubs.

Of the 120 shifts studied, researchers found new contamination on scrubs during 39 shifts, and bacterial contamination occurred during 19 shifts. Of these 19 cases, three occurred among nurses caring for patients with known drug-resistant bacterial infections. Staphylococcus aureus — including MRSA and methicillin susceptible S. aureus — was the most commonly transmitted pathogen.

Study authors cited the low-level of disinfectant capabilities in the scrubs' fabric, combined with repeated exposure in a short timeframe, as the likely reason the clothing was ineffective against bacterial contamination.

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