Bacterial contamination of stethoscopes used by health workers: public health implications
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.
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