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Patient Care and Nurse Care: How Clothing Is Spreading Germs

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, September 25th, 2014

A new dress code policy for doctors, nurses and other health care workers could keep dangerous germs from spreading among patients, an important piece to improve patient care and nurse care.

Short sleeves, bare forearms and white coats that are laundered at least once a week, if not more often, are the keys to keeping dangerous bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus from clinging to a doctor’s wrist.

germsNew guidelines on hospital attire released by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, or SHEA, suggests that neckties are questionable and watches and rings should not be worn. It’s not clear what to do about name tags, lanyards, necklaces and cell phones, but when in doubt, it’s best to clean the offending items often or not wear them at all.

SHEA, determined to stop infections in hospitals and health care settings, reviewed dozens of studies that suggest grimy hospital garb might be responsible for spreading germs.

The direct link between the germs on health worker clothing and actual infections is unclear, said Dr. Gonzalo Bearman, a hospital epidemiologist with the Virginia Commonwealth University System and a member of the SHEA guidelines committee. But it makes sense that there would be a connection, he said.

SHEA members looked at studies that found a range of worrisome bugs, from Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas to Clostridium difficile on the sleeves, pockets and other sites of health care workers’ coats and scrubs. One study found that a third of doctors’ neckties grew Staph aureus in the lab. Several found that the germs were often resistant to the top drugs used to treat them.

SHEA members came up with the new guidelines which also call for sturdy, closed-toe, non-skid shoes. Clothes laundered at home must be washed with hot water and bleach.

The group is urging hospitals to adopt the new guidelines, or to pay greater attention to them if they’re already in place. They’re committed to more research to determine exactly how hospital garb spreads infection, in hopes of recommending a health worker wardrobe that’s safe.

To learn more about creating healthy work environments that improve patient care and nurse care, visit SelfCare for HealthCare™. Contact me to discuss how we can customize this powerful program for your staff.

One response to “Patient Care and Nurse Care: How Clothing Is Spreading Germs”

  1. Pamela Johnsrud says:

    And the pendulum swings! As an RN approaching retirement, with the exception of not wearing a watch, this was our dress code when I was in nurses training. We were required to wear white – -probably so they could be bleached! No jewelry allowed, hair off your face and tied back if it was long enough.

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