Hospital shift to workers’ clothing to reduce the risk of infection

In battling healthcare associated infections, some hospitals are taking health professionals’ daily attire into consideration when developing infection control strategies, the New York Times reports. This year, the British National Health Service implemented a “bare below the elbows” rule barring physicians from wearing long sleeves and neck ties, both of which are thought to accumulate germs as physicians make rounds and see patients throughout the hospital.

According to the Times , although some data suggests medical staff’s garments harbor germs, there is no evidence to date that clothes can play a role in spreading infection. This month, the medical journal BJU International cited the lack of data in questioning the validity of the new British dress code. Although experts say the absence of evidence doesn’t mean there is no risk — it just means there is no good research. A handful of reports do suggest that the clothing of health workers can be a reservoir for risky germs.

Two recent studies from the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens found that about half the ties worn by medical personnel were a reservoir for germs, compared with just 1 in 10 of the ties taken from other staff. The doctors’ ties harbored several pathogens, including those that can lead to staph infections or pneumonia. At a Connecticut hospital a study found that if a worker entered a room where the patient had MRSA, the bacteria would end up on the worker’s clothes about 70 percent of the time, even if the person never actually touched the patient. (SOURCE: Advisory Board Daily Briefing , http://www.advisory.com, September 23, 2008; New York Times [Parket-Pope] , http://nytimes.com, accessed September 24, 2008)