AMA Focusing on Spread of Infections by Lab Coats, Scrubs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99,000 people die every year from infections acquired while in hospitals. One culprit in the accidental spread of disease is the common lab coat and scrubs worn by medical personnel.

Recent studies conducted by the University of Maryland and Virginia Commonwealth University found that lab coat sleeves can be an unwitting carrier of infection, opening the door to accidental exposure for patients to MRSA when in contact with hospital staff and doctors. For this reason, the American Medical Association recently announced at its annual conference in Chicago plans to begin formal research on "textile transmission of infections." A Reference Committee proposal took special note to single out the "physician's white lab coat as a primary concern associated with textile transmission of infections."

"Lab coats or scrubs can be the source of some serious bacterial hazards like MRSA," said Charles P. Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of environmental microbiology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Arizona. "When doctors or nurses lean over the beds of patients who are carrying organisms, their clothing can become contaminated. Hours later, that bacteria can still be alive and passed on through incidental contact with other patients."

Dr. Charles Kinder, director of the Heart Rhythm Program at Heart Care Centers of Illinois, added, "The goal in our profession is to help cure you, not introduce you to another deadly infection.”

Hospitals continue to make process and procedural improvements in an effort to reduce the number of accidents resulting from bacterial cross-contamination from dirty catheters and other equipment, but clothing has largely been ignored -- until now, said Kinder, who has designed new lab coats and scrubs embedded with Tri-Active, an FDA-approved, silver-based antimicrobial compound that can kill resistant microorganisms such as MRSA, E. coli, and salmonella.

"There isn't a doctor or hospital administrator out there who isn't interested in reducing medical accidents,” Kinder said. “Our job is to keep patients safe when they're in our care. What's important here is another step, another practical way to control infection that can be easily adopted by hospitals and medical staff everywhere.”

The AMA Board of Trustees report on Hospital Dress Codes is encouraging medical professionals to practice antimicrobial stewardship in an effort to reduce health-care acquired infections. "I can't think of a better way to fulfill this obligation than to wear clothing that effectively addresses the hazard by eliminating microorganisms," Kinder said.

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