Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Navigating the NHS

This article is from the WebMD News Archive

Stethoscopes 'pose infection risk'

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Sheena Meredith

28th February 2014 – Doctors should disinfect their stethoscopes after each clinical examination because they can be a major source of bacterial contamination, says a study.

Researchers in Geneva found that the diaphragm on the end of the stethoscope had higher bacteria levels than almost every part of a doctor's hand.

Lead investigator Dr Didier Pittet, from the University of Geneva Hospitals, says in a statement: "From infection control and patient safety perspectives, the stethoscope should be regarded as an extension of the physician's hands and be disinfected after every patient contact."


In this study, 71 patients were examined by one of three doctors using sterile gloves and a sterile stethoscope. After each examination, two parts of the stethoscope (the tube and diaphragm) and four regions of the doctors' hands were measured for the total number of bacteria present.

The stethoscope's diaphragm was found to be more contaminated than all regions of the doctor's hand except the fingertips. Also, the tube of the stethoscope was more heavily contaminated than the back of the doctor's hand.

Similar results were found after doctors' examined patients contaminated with MRSA.

Hand hygiene

The authors of the study, published in the March issue of Mayo Clinical Proceedings, say that doctors must be aware of the need to disinfect their stethoscope after each use.

Dr Pittet explains: "By considering that stethoscopes are used repeatedly over the course of a day, come directly into contact with patients' skin, and may harbour several thousands of bacteria (including MRSA) collected during a previous physical examination, we consider them as potentially significant vectors of transmission."

One doctor in the UK tells us that making sure stethoscopes are clean should be a basic procedure for all medical professionals.

Infection control

Birmingham GP Dr Clare Taylor, a council member for the Royal College of General Practitioners, says: "GPs are more aware than ever of the importance of maintaining hygiene standards to protect our patients.

"I regularly clean my own stethoscope with alcohol wipes and ensure I wash or sanitise my hands after every patient. It's part of our role to ensure we do everything we can to prevent the spread of infection."

Reviewed on February 28, 2014

Stay informed

Sign up for BootsWebMD's free newsletters.
Sign Up Now!

Popular slideshows & tools on BootsWebMD

man holding back
Myths & facts about back pain
hands grabbing knee
How to keep your joints healthy
bowl of soup
Small changes that lead to weight loss
cute baby
Simple tips to keep baby's skin healthy
cute dog
10 common allergy triggers
Do you know what causes hair loss?
woman exercising
Exercises for low back pain
sperm and egg
Facts to help you get pregnant
bucket with cleaning supplies in it
Cleaning for a healthy home
rash on skin
Soothe skin and prevent flare-ups
mother and child
Could your baby be allergic to milk?
pregnant woman eating healthy salad
Nutrition needs before pregnancy