Don't Straighten Your Doctor's Tie!
Physicians' neckties, which often brush against patients during examinations, are typically full of pathogenic bacteria. That's what researchers at the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens found, and reported last month at the American Society for Microbiology conference in New Orleans.
"During the physical examination and treatment of patients, these neckties may become colonized by pathogens," the study says.
The study collected and colonized bacteria found on hospital doctors' and security guards' neckties. Researchers found that 20 of the 42 clinicians' ties harboured pathogens, including Klebsiella pneumoniae (which can lead to life-threatening pneumonia and other maladies). The most common bacteria, found on one-third of the doctors' neckties, was Staphylococcus aureus, the increasingly antibiotic-resistant germ that can cause food-poisoning or toxic shock. In contrast, only one of the ten security guards' ties was contaminated.
What's significant about this is that ties are rarely cleaned, in comparison with other non-disposable medical clothing like office examination coats. And even if doctors are conscientious about handwashing -- which they generally aren't -- they're likely to adjust their ties several times a day in between patient visits, re-contaminating freshly washed hands.
While doctors aren't the only healthcare workers who should be more careful about spreading germs, studies have found they're the most culpable in the spread of "nocosomial," or hospital-caused, infections that kill an estimated 80,000 Americans every year. (Eighty thousand!!) One study reported on WebMD in 2000 found that "health care workers washed their hands only half as often as they should. Nurses had a slightly better average -- they washed a little more than half the time -- but they were far better than doctors, who washed less than a third of the time."
Alcohol-based hand rubs, frequently used, are doctors' and other healthcare workers' best weapon against nocosomial infections.
After "Hello, Doctor," "Did you just wash your hands?" should be our standard examining-room greeting. And keep away from the necktie!