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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

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