The rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria has been a concern in hospitals, and while doctors and nurses fight 24 hours a day against them, some may unwittingly be carrying those same germs out of the hospital, and into public places.
In 2011, a study carried out by researchers at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem found that over 60 percent of the scrubs worn by their doctors and nurses were contaminated with potentially hazardous bacteria. Some of the samples in the study even revealed methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
More recently, an article by Maiken Scott of Newsworks showed similar cause for concern, but also some good old fashioned common sense.
Scott spoke with Julia Sammons, the medical director of the department of infection prevention and control at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. For her, the evidence isn’t clear on what role germy scrubs really play once out in public.
“There is really limited evidence, lack of data on the role of attire, and the role of scrub attire, and the transmission of organisms in healthcare settings. Until robust evidence exists, or more robust clinical studies are done, our focus is more on evidence based practices, including hand hygiene, the isolation of patients with communicable diseases, disinfecting of the environment. These things which have strong evidence behind them for reducing the press of germs in hospitals.”
Scott also interviewed biologist Jonathan Eisen of UC Davis, who opined that while the evidence may not be there, a cause for the use of common sense is.
“It just seems as a precautionary principle, hospital and medical workers should try to do the simple things that could limit the possibilities of spreading organisms that you don’t want. It just doesn’t seem that bringing scrubs outside of the hospital makes sense as common practice.”
Still, the question of concern remains: are there superbugs in your scrubs? It’s impossible to know, but there are plenty of ways to keep clear of germs and stay worry free.
Many hospitals have policies in place to keep scrubs off the streets, but if your employer doesn’t have a laundering facility on hand, it may be best for now to simply err on the side of caution, and exercise common sense. Many nurses pack an extra set of clothes so that they may change before leaving work. Some even pack an extra set of scrubs to switch into mid-shift, as laundering can only keep your garments germ free for so long.
Meanwhile, there’s also newer garment technology available, such as germ resistant scrubs. Combining modern science with old fashioned common sense can be a powerful antidote to the growing threat of superbugs.
More research will be needed to determine exactly how, and to what extent, dirty scrubs may transmit germs, but it is great to know that there are easy choices and options available to healthcare professionals to help prevent the potential spread of infection inside and outside of hospitals.