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Stethoscopes Infected with Deadly Bacteria

Wednesday, March 18, 2009 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: stethoscopes, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) You've probably heard some horror stories about bacterial infections, including the "flesh eating" kind, that are resistant to broad-spectrum antibiotics. In fact, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections have been on the rise over the last decade, occurring primarily in hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare settings. It turns out, however, that if you need emergency medical care, you could pick up a MRSA infection before you even get to the hospital. The reason? A new study just published in the journal Prehospital Emergency Care shows that the potentially deadly infection can be spread by dirty stethoscopes.

Dr. Mark Merlin, chair of the Mobile Intensive Care Unit Advisory Committee for the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, is urging medical services providers to clean their stethoscopes more frequently to prevent transmission of MRSA infections. That's important because MRSA infections can quickly turn into deep and horrendously painful abscesses requiring surgical draining. And, in worst case scenarios, MRSA germs can penetrate into the body, causing killer infections in bones, joints, surgical wounds, the bloodstream, heart valves and lungs. Necrotizing fasciitis (NF) often called flesh-eating disease or flesh-eating bacteria involves MRSA infections in the deeper layers of skin and can be lethal.

In the new study led by Dr. Merlin, who's an assistant professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry New Jersey (UMDNJ) Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, one in 3 stethoscopes being used by emergency medical services (EMS) personnel in a New Jersey hospital's emergency department tested positive for MRSA. "There's a simple solution for this potentially serious problem: provide isopropyl alcohol wipes at hospital emergency room entrances so EMS professionals can clean their stethoscopes regularly," Dr. Merlin said in a media statement.

Dr. Merlin and his research team swabbed 50 stethoscopes used by independent EMS providers, including nurses, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, who worked with patients in a New Jersey hospital's emergency department over a 24-hour period. After these cultures were incubated for 72 hours, they were analyzed by two emergency physicians and one microbiologist from UMDNJ.

"Of the 50 stethoscopes, 16 had MRSA colonization and the same number couldn't remember the last time their stethoscopes were cleaned," Dr. Merlin, medical director of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, explained in the media statement. According to the results of the study, the time between cleanings was one to seven days. "The longer period of time between cleanings, the more likely it is you have this bacteria," Dr. Merlin added.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics show MRSA infections are becoming more common in healthcare settings. In 1974, MRSA infections made up about two percent of the total number of staph infections; in 1995 that number had jumped to 22 percent and in 2004, it was 63 percent.

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.
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