Clothing, Infection, and Nurses: Does fashion make a difference?

nursing-inspiration_expose-to-diseaseI had a friend in nursing school who told me her routine for taking off her clothes when coming back from the nursing home.

She would enter her laundry room from the garage, completely remove her clothes, and immediately put them in a scalding hot washer by themselves.

Of course, I thought this was a bit much, but it turns out that a new group is pushing for medical personnel to wear a uniform that is less likely to carry bacteria.

While scrubs are cute and lab coats professional, some of these bits of clothing have been found to carry antibiotic resistant strains of you name it.

However, the research behind whether clothing can actually cause infections in patients has not been proven.  The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America has a few ideas about what our uniforms should look like anyway, just in case our clothes are dragging C. diff from room to room.

Suggested Uniform

Long sleeves and neckties, apparently, are out.  Each of them can contain pathogens and they aren’t usually subjected to the cleansing after each patient that the hands are.

In addition, nurses would not be allowed to wear watches or rings as these can carry bacteria from one patient to the next.

Lab coats should be washed at least once per week and should not be worn when examining patients.

No guidelines have been put forth for items such as cell phones, lanyards, ID tags, and using pockets.

Unfortunately, all of these items have been found to have bacteria on them when tested after a shift.

The question is whether we can win the war against bacteria even with these guidelines in place.  Although the items in question test positive for the bugs, they haven’t ever been implicated in transmitting disease from one patient to another.

Suggested Clothing Treatment

While incinerating your uniform between patients would be ideal, it isn’t actually practical to burn all your clothing after a shift.

So, what should you do with that scrub shirt and pant set that is likely crawling with bugs?

Hot water and bleach are your friends.  These are the most effective ways of cleansing your clothing when you get home, and you should probably not wear your uniform to hang out with your kids.

With other items, it is best to keep them at your workplace.

Your watch, your shoes, and anything else you carry should be left at work and wiped down with bleach wipes between shifts.

“With contact precautions and gowns for C. diff rooms, perhaps we are already on to the idea that clothing can be a transmitter.”

Honestly, if you don’t want to bring bugs home, then don’t bring items to work.

This goes for cellphones, wedding rings, bracelets, and anything else that means something to you as these are vectors for bugs.

It stinks, but leave them at home.

What the Research Says

Yes, research has shown that different articles of clothing carry bacteria.  One test on the neckties of doctors showed that they carried antibiotic resistant staph aureus, and ties don’t come that close to the patients.

Other studies have implicated lab coats and watches, but what the research fails to show is a direct link between clothing borne pathogens and actual sick patients.

We would be foolish to believe that our clothes do not transmit bugs, but how much does this actually affect patients?

Should there be a uniform that focuses on cutting down the transmission of infection, even though no patient has ever had a proven illness from a piece of clothing?

Are the ideas and procedures we have in place now sufficient to prevent clothing borne transmission or is it just a matter of time before it is proven our clothes are vectors?

With contact precautions and gowns for C. diff rooms, perhaps we are already on to the idea that clothing can be a transmitter.

In the future, we may find that our uniforms and personal effects are governed even more strictly than they are now – for better or worse.

Update! Cherokee has launched the first line of Antimicrobial scrubs! Check them out

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