Hospitals in Chicago and nationwide could be affected by new evidence that suggests that doctors and nurses could be spreading infectious diseases through contaminated scrubs and clothing. Given all the new antibiotic-resistant disease, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), now it is more important than ever to stem the spread of infection.
Chicago and Illinois hospitals have initiated programs advocating that medical providers wash their hands frequently to prevent spreading infection to their patients. And while this is a proven measure to stem the spread of diseases, physicians’ clothes and scrubs can still carry infection from patient to patient. Not to mention that when medical providers continue to wear their hospital clothes outside of the hospital, whether their scrubs or own clothes, then they can carry and spread infections to other areas.
The idea of clothes as a means of transferring infections is a fairly new concept, and as of yet there aren’t any definitive studies proving the extent of harm that can occur. But a recent U.S. study showed that if a hospital worker is in the same room as a patient with MRSA, then the bacteria ends up on their clothes 70% of the time, even if the employee had no physical contact with the patient. This discovery was particularly disturbing because it has been proven that bacteria and disease can live on fabrics for long periods of time.
Given the amount of interaction hospital employees have with numerous sick people throughout the course of their workday, there is an overwhelming likelihood that an employee is carrying some sort of bacteria. But what is the solution? If everyone is walking around in a hospital harboring disease in their very clothes, then how can they avoid transferring to others?
Some countries in Europe have tried to stem the spread of infection by ensuring that all workers wear a set of clothes in the hospital and another set of clothes outside of the hospital. The “hospital” clothes and shoes are provided by the hospital itself. Then at the end of a shift the employees change out of the hospital scrubs and into their street clothes.
While this program has proved useful in decreasing the spread of infection in Europe, hospitals have argued that it is not practical to institute in the U.S. hospitals who have tight budgets and can’t afford to provide each worker with their own set of clothing. Also, most U.S. hospitals don’t have enough room for on-site laundry facilities, which would make the quick turnaround much easier.
Instead many American hospitals do have a policy that staff should change out of their scrubs and into their street clothes before leaving the building. But this policy is not well-enforced and we oftentimes see doctors or nurses wearing their scrubs around town. Perhaps it’s not that our hospitals need a radical new approach, rather they just need to enforce the programs already in place.
But no matter what is done, one thing is clear- hospital clothes and scrubs should not be worn outside the hospital. Wearing contaminated scrubs seems to be one of the reasons why spreading infections to patients is so prevalent in American hospitals.
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