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What’s Growing on Your Stethoscope?

Written By: 
Marc Blitstein / President & CEO

Study after study have shown that, unbeknownst to most healthcare professionals, the diaphragm of the stethoscope is a vector for potentially dangerous pathogens, including MRSA. Although no patient infection has been directly attributed to a stethoscope, the possibility of transmission was established in a 1997 study1. Transmission of Micrococcus luteus on a stethoscope diaphragm to human skin was reported on an intentionally contaminated diaphragm. It is believed MRSA would follow the same pattern of transmission.

In virtually every study conducted, a large percentage of stethoscopes were found to be contaminated with one or more bacteria. Some studies found contamination almost universal. Counter-intuitively, a number of studies also found that antimicrobial diaphragm covers treated with a silver ion had higher bacterial concentrations.

So, what should you do about it?

Wipe down your scope with isopropyl alcohol to disinfect it.Those same studies suggested that cleaning the chestpiece with isopropyl alcohol (such as a wipe) or simultaneously while cleaning the hands with an alcohol-based soap foam to be effective in greatly reducing, or even eliminating, bacterial contamination with the former the most effective treatment. Although cleaning after each use is preferred, one study found that a single daily cleaning was sufficient to virtually eliminate most contamination.

So, take a minute at the end (or start) of your daily shift and wipe down the patient contact surfaces of the scope with an isopropyl alcohol wipe.

STETHOSCOPES AS A SOURCE OF HOSPITAL-ACQUIRED MRSA by Abigail L. Russell Departmental Honors Thesis The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga School of Nursing Project Director:

Ariel Schroeder; St. Joseph’s High School, Natrona Heights, Pa Maryellen A. Schroeder, MD, MPH; UPMC St. Margaret Family Medicine Residency Program, Pittsburgh schroederma@upmc.edu Frank D’Amico, PhD University of Pittsburgh, Department of Family Medicine, Pittsburgh

Prevalence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus on the stethoscopes of emergency medical services providers.
Merlin MA, Wong ML, Pryor PW, Rynn K, Marques-Baptista A, Perritt R, Stanescu CG, Fallon T.

[1] Department of Emergency Medicine, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901, USA. merlinma@umdnj.edu