True hospital infection control requires clean stethoscopes

LETTER — Posted June 26, 2006

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Regarding "New push for clean hands in hospitals" (Article, May 8): Your article rightly points out that hand hygiene compliance is inexcusably low. The article also correctly points out that "neckties, white coats and computer keyboards are germ nesting grounds." But stethoscopes -- the most common contaminated object to touch patients other than the examiner's hands -- were not even mentioned.

Every study that has examined this problem has found that stethoscopes in hospitals are contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Sanitizing one's hands and then touching a patient with a contaminated stethoscope does not make sense; nor does touching one's contaminated stethoscope after hand sanitizing and before touching the patient.

Hospitals have not taken steps to close this infection control loophole; nor has the CDC issued consistent recommendations on this matter. We need to push for clean stethoscopes -- not just clean hands -- in hospitals.

Richard C. Weidman, MD, MPH, Washington, D.C.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/06/26/edlt0626.htm.

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