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Did Your Doc Clean his Stethoscope Before Using it on YOU?

August 16, 2017

Stethoscope in shape of heart on a graph of the patient's heartbeat.

How would you feel if the stethoscope used by your doctor to listen to your heart and lungs was teeming with potentially unfriendly bacteria?

You know the drill. A stethoscope is one of the first medical devices anyone encounters, at any age during a doctor’s appointment. The scope rests lightly on your back or your chest, with or without clothing, depending on the circumstances. A new study in the American Journal of Infection Control asks the question, “Can education influence stethoscope hygiene?”

The short and quite dirty answer is, “no.”


The stethoscope is a wonderful tool invented by René Théophile Hyacinthe Laënnec. Before Laënnec pioneered the idea of using acoustics to allow him to better hear the inner workings in the chest of his patients, doctors had to place their head on the chest of their patients, a practice Laënnec was quoted as saying was “disgusting.”

As the story goes, Laënnec was inspired by seeing children playing with a wooden beam, tapping nails into one end to transmit sound to listeners on the other end. Or — perhaps Laënnec, an accomplished musician on the flute, put wood and wind together and came up with the stethoscope.

Stethoscopes are now an invaluable medical device, and like all medical devices, need to be sanitized properly to avoid spreading infectious disease.

In 2014, in a study from Mayo Clinic, scientists looked at the contamination levels of stethoscopes and the hands of physicians who used them. Researchers swabbed four regions of the dominant hand of the doctor and two regions of the stethoscopes used during examinations of 83 patients at a Swiss teaching hospital.

Following analysis, the scientists concluded a stethoscope is as contaminated as the dominant hand of a physician, even after examining only one patient. Further, the bacterial population of a stethoscope may include dangerous pathogens like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Researchers wrote, “Our findings provide strong evidence of the potential for stethoscope-mediated transmission of microorganisms and the need to systematically disinfect stethoscopes after each use.”

Read More at the Source: Seeing a Doctor? Make Sure They Clean Their Stethoscope « Invisiverse

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