Bacterial contamination of stethoscopes used by health workers: Public health implications

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Background: This study was designed to assess both the potential for bacterial transmission by stethoscopes used by health-care workers in Nigeria and the implications for patient safety and control of hospital-acquired infections. Methodology: A structured questionnaire was administered to health workers and the surface of the diaphragm of their stethoscopes swabbed for bacteriological analysis using standard techniques. Results and Conclusions: Of the 107 stethoscopes surveyed, 84 (79%) were contaminated with bacteria; 59 (81%) of the contaminated stethoscopes belonged to physicians and 25 (74%) were from other health workers. Isolates included Staphylococcus aureus (54%), Pseudomonas aeruginosa (19%), Enterococcus faecalis (14%), and Escherichia coli (13%). All stethoscopes that had never been cleaned were contaminated while lower levels of contamination were found on those cleaned one week or less before the survey (χ2=22.4, P < 05). Contamination was significantly higher on stethoscopes cleaned with only water (100%) compared to those cleaned with alcohol (49%) (χ2 = 30.17, P < 05). Significantly fewer (9%) stethoscopes from health workers who washed their hands after seeing each patient were contaminated when compared with the instruments (86%) of those who did not practice hand washing (χ2 = 23.79, P 05). E. coli showed the highest antibiotic resistance, while S. aureus showed the highest antibiotic susceptibility. Strict adherence to stethoscope disinfection practices by health workers can minimize cross-contamination and ensure improved patient safety in hospital environments. © Uneke et al.




Uneke, C. J., Ogbonna, A., Oyibo, P. G., & Onu, C. M. (2010). Bacterial contamination of stethoscopes used by health workers: Public health implications. Journal of Infection in Developing Countries, 4(7), 436–441.

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