By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – One of the most universal tools that a doctor carries around is a stethoscope, used to listen to a patient’s heart and lungs. Now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered the nasty truth about these instruments – that they are covered with potentially dangerous bacteria.

The researchers performed DNA testing on stethoscopes used by doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists in an intensive care unit and found, not only significant numbers of harmless bacteria, but also bacteria that could lead to bad infections like staph aureus.

They also found that wiping down the stethoscopes with hydrogen peroxide, alcohol swabs, or bleach wipes did reduce contamination, but it did not get rid of it all together.

About five to ten percent of hospitalized patients end up getting some type of infection. It is unclear how much dirty stethoscopes contribute to that number, because there are other potentially contaminated items in a hospital like white coats, neck ties, and mobile devices.

Healthcare workers are encouraged to routinely clean their stethoscopes, perhaps with stronger chemicals, and patients may want to ask their provider to clean it before placing it on their bare chest.

Dr. Mallika Marshall

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