Breeding Grounds: Surprising Bacteria Hosts

Reducing Bacteria? Start with Scrubs

According to recent research conducted at the Duke University Hospital, scrubs – the common uniform of healthcare professionals all around the world – are often contaminated with bacteria—even after they’ve been treated with bacterial deterrents. Staph and MRSA were among the most commonly transmitted bacteria, the studies report, and researchers confirmed that scrubs – antibacterial or not – are generally not effective at reducing bacterial spread.

Though this news is likely to alarm healthcare workers and their institutions’ administrators, it joins a growing body of research surrounding the subject of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Often referred to as the biggest health threat facing hospitals today, the risk of dangerous bacteria is very real—according to the Center for Disease Control, more than 20,000 people die annually from infections that antibiotics can’t quell.

It’s critical, therefore, that nurses and other healthcare providers wear gowns and gloves over their scrubs – a measure that could effectively cut down on clothing contamination. This information is relevant, though it will likely disrupt procedures, at least for a time, since employees will need to get used to more stringent measures. Nevertheless, it’s imperative that healthcare workers around the world take stock of the evidence: That repeated patient contact means an increased risk of powerful bacteria on scrubs.

The Data’s In – Scrubs Make Great Hosts

According to Duke researchers, scrubs aren’t very effective at reducing bacteria because the low-level disinfectants applied to their surfaces aren’t enough to withstand the test of time. Healthcare workers visiting with numerous patients encounter myriad bacterial strains, yet their “antibacterial” scrubs aren’t equipped to deal with such a barrage. More suitable for bed linens and patient gowns, antibacterial scrubs aren’t powerful enough to resist bacteria from multiple carriers.

The Duke study tested all manner of scrubs, not just those claiming antibacterial properties. Nurses were provided with cotton scrubs, scrubs treated with silver-alloy, or antibacterial surgical scrubs. No one knew what he or she had on. Thousands of cultures were analyzed on the scrubs after use; in the end, researchers couldn’t find a difference in contamination levels between the three varieties of scrubs. Ultimately, though, a full third had definitely been contaminated with bacteria.

Proceed with Caution: After All, We’re Surrounded

In the end, the message is clear: We can’t be too careful, even when the label tells us we’re protected. In busy healthcare settings, it’s imperative that nurses and other staff members follow diligent hand-hygiene practices upon entering and exiting each room. Gowns and gloves are often effective deterrents to harmful bacteria, since both reduce the risk of clothing contamination. In general, improved protocols must be implemented to improve the overall cleanliness of the environment – and patients and their families must have access to steps they can take to prevent the spread of bacteria, too. It all starts with information – and putting that knowledge into practice is essential.