Clean Uniforms Have Same Bacteria As Dirty White Coats

No difference in bacterial colonization of freshly laundered uniforms and white coats worn all day

THURSDAY, Feb. 17 (HealthDay News) -- After an eight-hour work day, there is no difference in bacterial colonization of physicians' infrequently laundered white coats or freshly laundered short-sleeved uniform shirts, according to a study published online Feb. 10 in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

Marisha Burden, M.D., from Denver Health, and colleagues compared the degree of contamination of 50 white coats worn by physicians to 50 freshly laundered standard short-sleeved uniforms. One hundred physicians were randomly assigned to continue wearing their own white coat or a newly washed short-sleeved uniform for an eight-hour shift in the internal medicine unit of their hospital. Following the shift, the shirts were investigated for the presence and frequency of bacterial colonies and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus cultures.

The investigators found that there was no significant difference in the presence of bacterial or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus contamination in the worn white coats compared to the freshly laundered uniforms. Contamination of the skin on the physicians' wrists was also not significantly different. Initially, the freshly laundered uniforms had close to zero bacterial colonies; however, within three hours, 50 percent of the colonies counted at eight hours were already present.

"Bacterial contamination of work clothes occurs within the first few hours after donning them," the authors write. "Our data do not support discarding white coats for uniforms that are changed on a daily basis or for requiring health care workers to avoid long-sleeved garments."

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