Is your doctor's stethoscope making you sick?

You have enough to worry about if you end up hospitalized for an illness or injury. Nevertheless, it seems that if you want to avoid contracting one of several hospital-acquired infections, you must also be proactive when interacting with hospital staff. This may mean speaking up when your nurse fails to wash his or her hands or using your own disinfectant wipes on the side rails of your bed.

What about those stethoscopes? Doctors and nurses come in and out of your room with stethoscopes draped across their shoulders. They insert the ear tips into their ears and place the diaphragm against your skin. Do you know how many patients that stethoscope touched before you?

Is it really that serious?

It may seem paranoid to worry about the germs on the stethoscope of your medical professional, but studies show that an average of 85 percent of these specialized medical tools is covered in bacteria. One study showed that the average doctor's stethoscope carries as much bacteria as his or her dominant hand. Contaminated stethoscopes may be one way that the antibiotic-resistant MRSA virus transmits from patient to patient.

Some interesting facts about stethoscopes may cause you to think it is not so trivial to worry about the germs your doctor places against your skin, for example:

  • Researchers worry that unsanitized stethoscopes may harbor disease-causing bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium difficile, or C-diff.
  • Researchers found that disinfecting a stethoscope frequently during a doctor's shift reduces the rate of contamination by 51 percent.
  • A disinfected stethoscope is usually recontaminated after a doctor uses it on five patients.
  • Stethoscopes are easy to disinfect by using hand sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol, such as in the alcohol pads hospitals use to sterilize your skin before giving an injection.
  • Almost none of the physicians surveyed by researchers claimed to take any steps to clean or disinfect their stethoscopes between patient visits.

Even with sanitizing methods at easy disposal, most doctors do not take the time to clean their stethoscopes between patient visits. Therefore, it is quite possible that the stethoscope your Georgia doctor uses on you has previously touched patients with highly contagious diseases.

Scrupulous hygiene is the minimum you should expect during your hospitalization. Unfortunately, many patients find their hospital stays extended by days or weeks because they contract infections. If this happens to you, you have every right to seek legal assistance for claiming compensation for your pain and suffering.

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