Doctors’ stethoscopes more contaminated than their hands, study finds

An analysis published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that stethoscope diaphragms may harbor several thousand bacteria – including MRSA – from a previous physical examination

Although healthcare workers' hands are the main source of bacterial transmission in hospitals, physicians' stethoscopes appear to play a role. To explore this question, investigators at the University of Geneva Hospitals assessed the level of bacterial contamination on physicians' hands and stethoscopes following a single physical examination. The study appears in the March issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, published by Elsevier.

Didier Pittet, MD, MS (Watch his video below)"By considering that stethoscopes are used repeatedly over the course of a day, come directly into contact with patients' skin, and may harbor several thousands of bacteria (including MRSA) collected during a previous physical examination, we consider them as potentially significant vectors of transmission," said lead investigator Dr. Didier Pittet, Director of the Infection Control Program and WHO Collaborating Centre on Patient Safety at the University of Geneva Hospitals. "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 physicians using sterile gloves and a sterile stethoscope. After they completed the examination, two parts of the stethoscope (the tube and diaphragm) and four regions of the physician's hands (back, fingertips, and thenar and hypothenar eminences) were measured for the total number of bacteria present.

The stethoscope's diaphragm was more contaminated than all regions of the physician's hand except the fingertips. Further, the tube of the stethoscope was more heavily contaminated than the back of the physician's hand. Similar results were observed when contamination was due to methicillin-resistant S.aureus (MRSA) after examining MRSA-colonized patients.


Watch the video


Read the study

The article will be freely available on the Mayo Clinic Proceedings website for two months, until May 27, 2014: "Contamination of Stethoscopes and Physicians' Hands After a Physical Examination," by Yves Longtin, MD; Alexis Schneider, MD; Clément Tschopp, MD; Gesuèle Renzi, MS; Angèle Gayet-Ageron, MD, PhD; Jacques Schrenzel, MD; and Didier Pittet, MD, MS, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 89, Issue 3 (March 2014)[divider]

The flagship journal of Mayo Clinic and one of the premier peer-reviewed clinical journals in general medicine, Mayo Clinic Proceedings is among the most widely read and highly cited scientific publications for physicians, with a circulation of approximately 125,000. While the journal is sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, it welcomes submissions from authors worldwide, publishing articles that focus on clinical medicine and support the professional and educational needs of its readers. The journal is published by Elsevier.


Elsevier Connect Contributor

Eileen Leahy has handled media outreach for 14 years for a portfolio of Elsevier Health Sciences journals, including the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Mayo Clinic Proceedings and The American Journal of Medicine. An experienced STM journal marketer, Eileen was responsible for the launches of numerous journals while on staff at Elsevier, most notably, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and Gastroenterology. She continues working as an independent consultant specializing in the development and marketing of innovative online full-text publications.

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1 Archived Comment

John Gustavo Reyesvilla Méndez February 27, 2014 at 10:30 pm

¡Qué labor más cochina!. Yo uso dos estetoscopios, desde hace veinte años y, ¡gracia a Dios!, no ha pasado nada, que yo sepa. En todo caso, lo lavaré un poco.