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Hospitals consider role of clothes in infection control

By Anne Zieger

It's already well-established that regular hand-washing can cut down on hospital-acquired infections in patients. On the other hand, it's not clear what role the clothes worn by hospital staffers play in the spread of infections. However, that hasn't stopped hospitals from taking a look at this issue. Meanwhile, the issue of how clothing may impact hospital infections was given a publicity boost this year when the British National Health Service demanded that doctors go "bare below the elbows" rule banning ties and long sleeves.

To date, there's been little research documenting that clothes, ties or watches worn by doctors and others transmit disease. Still, there is some research documenting that healthcare workers' clothing is significantly more germy than that of non-healthcare workers. For example, one study at a Connecticut hospital concluded that if a worker entered a room where a patient had MRSA, the germ would end up on the worker's clothes about 70 percent of the time, even if the worker never touched the infected patient.

To compromise, hospitals are starting with less-restrictive rules, such as barring workers from wearing scrubs to and from work. But it seems unlikely that U.S. hospitals will adopt the practices common in, for example, Denmark, where hospitals give all healthcare workers sanitized clothes and shoes for use during their shift.


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