The New York Times
By ERIC NAGOURNEY
Stethoscopes carried by ambulance crews are not always cleaned as often as they should be, and as a result they may be exposing some patients to drug-resistant bacteria, a new study reports.
Researchers who looked at stethoscopes used by emergency medical services workers in New Jersey found that a significant number carried methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, bacteria known as MRSA that are resistant to standard drugs.
Some of the ambulance workers could not recall the last time the instruments had been cleaned, said the researchers, whose report appears in the current issue of Prehospital Emergency Care.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Mark A. Merlin of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said it was unclear how big a threat MRSA on a stethoscope posed to a patient. But as incidents of infection by the bacteria become more common, and with the possibility that it will become more resistant to antibiotics, it is important to reduce its spread, he said.
Researchers asked ambulance crews arriving at an emergency department over a 24-hour period to let their stethoscopes be tested. They also asked when the instruments had last been cleaned.
Of 50 stethoscopes tested, 16 had the bacteria, which a simple alcohol swab is usually enough to kill, the researchers said. “The concept of cleaning an entire ambulance after every patient is not practical,” they wrote. “Cleaning a stethoscope, however, is not labor-intensive, does not require much time, and does not require any special equipment beyond currently stocked items.”