MONDAY, Dec. 17, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Stethoscopes in the intensive care unit (ICU) have high levels of bacterial contamination, according to a study published online Dec. 12 in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Vincent R. Knecht, from the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, and colleagues used bacterial 16S rRNA gene deep sequencing, analysis, and quantification to profile bacterial populations on stethoscopes in an ICU. The authors examined practitioner stethoscopes, individual-use patient-room stethoscopes, and clean, unused individual-use stethoscopes.

The researchers found that the highest levels of bacterial contamination were on practitioner stethoscopes, followed by patient-room stethoscopes. There was no difference between clean stethoscopes and background controls. Complex bacterial communities were identified on stethoscopes. Communities on physician and patient-room stethoscopes were indistinguishable and differed significantly from clean stethoscopes and background controls. Practitioner stethoscopes commonly had genera relevant to health care-associated infections (HAIs), with Staphylococcus being ubiquitous and having the highest relative abundance (6.8 to 14 percent); other HAI-related genera were widespread with lower abundance. A significant reduction in bacterial contamination levels was seen with cleaning of practitioner stethoscopes. These levels reached those of clean stethoscopes in only a few cases; the bacterial composition did not change significantly.

“This study underscores the importance of adhering to rigorous infection control procedures, including fully adhering to CDC-recommended decontamination procedures between patients, or using single-patient-use stethoscopes kept in each patient’s room,” a coauthor said in a statement.

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