Blog | Friday, February 25, 2011

QD--News Every Day: Doctors' garments colonized by bacteria within hours of starting work


Bacterial contamination of physicians' newly laundered uniforms occurs within three hours of putting them on, making them no more or less dirty than the traditional white coats, researchers reported.

This colorized 2005 scanning electron micrograph depicts numerous clumps of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, magnified 2,390 times. Content provided by CDC/Jeff Hageman, MHS, via the CDC's Public Health Image Library (PHIL)Researchers sought to compare bacterial and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus contamination of physicians' white coats to freshly laundered short-sleeved uniforms, and to determine the rate at which bacterial contamination happens. They reported results in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

ACP Internist's blog recently took up the debate as well. The issue has cropped up over the years, assessing not only the cleanliness but the professionalism inherent in the white lab coat.

Researchers conducted a prospective, randomized, controlled trial among 100 residents and hospitalists on an internal medicine service at Denver Health, a university-affiliated public safety-net hospital. Subjects wore a white coat or a laundered, short-sleeved uniform.

At the end of an eight-hour workday, no significant differences were found between the extent of bacterial or MRSA contamination of infrequently washed white coats compared to the laundered uniforms. Sleeve cuffs of white coats were slightly but significantly more contaminated than the pockets or the midsleeves, "but interestingly, we found no difference in colony count from cultures taken from the skin at the wrists of the subjects wearing either garment," researchers wrote.

And, there was no association found between the extent of bacterial or MRSA contamination and the frequency with which white coats were washed or changed. Colony counts of newly laundered uniforms were essentially zero, but after three hours they were nearly 50% of those counted at eight hours.