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Kimberly Osborne
August 23, 2017

How often do you clean your stethoscope?


Would you go on your break and eat your KitKat without washing your hands after collecting urine from a dog? I didn’t think so.


Over the years, we have accepted the important role hand hygiene plays not only in our personal lives but in the lives of our patients. In fact, nowadays we see the hand hygiene stations anywhere we go; I know in my vet hospital, we have at least 10 hand stations around the facility. Hand hygiene has been the focus of infection prevention education for quite some time now, but, have you ever considered stethoscope hygiene compliance within your facility?


In human health, microbiological data have shown that stethoscope contamination after a single exam is comparable to that of a physician’s dominant hand. To put that into perspective, total bacterial counts on the hands of medical personnel have ranged from 3.9 x 104 to 4.6 x 106. That’s up to 4,600,000 pathogens that could contaminate a single stethoscope! Common pathogens cultured from stethoscopes include Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Clostridium difficile, and VRE. I can only imagine which pathogens in a veterinary facility would be cultured from our stethoscopes; Parvo, MRSP, Bordetella, just to name a few. A new study in the American Journal of Infection Control looked at the impact that education, reminder flyers, and the provision of cleaning supplies had on stethoscope hygiene. At the end of the program, the results indicated that there was NO change in stethoscope disinfection compliance and hygiene…pretty gross eh?


As it appears, just providing standard education may not have been the answer in increasing disinfection compliance in this particular study, but perhaps a more rounded approach is required that includes compliance monitoring, providing feedback to staff and even electing a disinfection champion within the facility.


Within a veterinary facility, it is not difficult to imagine the consequences that can occur from improper disinfection. We see multiple animals a day, and transmission of pathogens could occur very easily. Expectations need to be set that stethoscopes are disinfected between each patient due to the fact that they are repeatedly used, can become contaminated after contact with any patient, and pheromone odours are being left on the object after each patient visit. Stethoscopes, in my opinion, have become a top item in the veterinary world that can transmit pathogens from patient to patient, lowering our infection control efforts.


We are advocates for the animal, and we strive to provide the best care for them every single day – lets go a step further and think about objects that may not be disinfected between patients, but should be – starting with your own stethoscope!


Take a look at our Stethoscope Disinfection Protocol to have as a resource in your facility.


Paw you later,


Kim Osborne

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