Dirty scrubs spread bacteria to patients in the hospital and allow hospital superbugs to escape into public places such as restaurants. Some hospitals now prohibit wearing scrubs outside the building, partly in response to the rapid increase in an infection called "C. diff." A national hospital survey released last November warns that Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections are sickening nearly half a million people a year in the U.S., more than six times previous estimates.
The problem is that some medical personnel wear the same unlaundered uniforms to work day after day. They start their shift already carrying germs such as C.diff, drug-resistant enterococcus or staphylococcus. Doctors' lab coats are probably the dirtiest. At the University of Maryland, 65% of medical personnel confess they change their lab coat less than once a week, though they know it's contaminated. Fifteen percent admit they change it less than once a month. Superbugs such as staph can live on these polyester coats for up to 56 days.
Do unclean uniforms endanger patients? Absolutely. Health-care workers habitually touch their own uniforms. Studies confirm that the more bacteria found on surfaces touched often by doctors and nurses, the higher the risk that these bacteria will be carried to the patient and cause infection.
Until about 20 years ago, nearly all hospitals laundered scrubs for their staff. A few hospitals are returning to that policy. St. Mary's Health Center in St. Louis, Mo., reduced infections after cesarean births by more than 50% by giving all caregivers hospital-laundered scrubs, as well as requiring them to wear two layers of gloves. Monroe Hospital in Bloomington, Ind., which has a near-zero rate of hospital-acquired infections, provides laundered scrubs for all staff and prohibits them from wearing scrubs outside the building. Stamford Hospital in Connecticut recently banned wearing scrubs outside the hospital.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Doctors and Nurses are killing patients with their dirty clothing, says Betsy McCaughey, also in today's Wall Street Journal: