Posted tagged ‘germs’

Do we need more naked doctors and nurses?

September 2, 2011

The Pediatric Insider

© 2011 Roy Benaroch, MD

Those scrubs and white coats worn by your friendly doctor and helpful nurses? They might just be loaded with germs.

This month researchers published a simple study looking at about 240 samples collected from physicians’ and nurses’ uniforms at a hospital in Jerusalem. They found that over 60% of the swabs were contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, including many that were resistant to multiple drugs. Previous research has shown that doctors’ neckties can also harbor nasty infectious organisms.

These studies have not shown that the bacteria on clothes can make their way to patients and cause infection, but they do illustrate how difficult it is to create a truly germ-free environment.

The best defense seems to be to fight the most direct path that bacteria take to get to you and cause infection: though your hands. Germs on the doctor’s coat (or even, heaven forbid, on a naked body) won’t make you sick until they get through your skin. That usually means via the mucus membranes of your mouth, eyes, and nose when you touch your own face. Keep washing those hands!

And just to be safe, I’d stay away from the naked doctor, too.

Control your mucus

August 24, 2010

The Pediatric Insider

© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD

Germs love warm, sticky mucus. If you want to spread them around, spray your coughs and sneezes like a cropduster. Alternatively, you could sneeze or cough on your own hands, then smear the ick on doorknobs. Either way, the germs win.

At the height of last year’s novel-H1N1 epidemic, researchers in New Zealand wanted to see if people in public places were taking public health advice seriously. Dozens of medical students surreptitiously watched people in a hospital, shopping mall, and a train station to see how they sneezed and coughed, observing and taking notes on 384 mucus-producing events. The results, as reported here:

  • 65% covered their mouths and nose with their own hands, ensuring their ability to wipe their infectious germs on the next unsuspecting doorknob or stranger.
  • 27% didn’t cover anything at all—they just let ‘er rip!
  • 3% sneezed into tissues or handkerchiefs.
  • 1% sneezed or coughed into their own elbows, Dracula-style. This is what my kids were taught to do in kindergarten. It looks weird, but it prevents snot from spraying without getting a child’s hands covered with infectious goo.

So: the vast majority of people observed in this study did nothing to prevent the spread of disease. Somehow, I’m not surprised.

We could all do a better job at keeping our germs to ourselves. Some simple, effective steps:

  • Stay home if you’re sick, and keep your kids home if they’re sick.
  • Get your family vaccinated against influenza, and encourage your friends and neighbors to do this too. The more of us who are vaccinated, the better protection we all have.
  • Wash hands frequently, and use an alcohol-based hand gel between washings.
  • Finally: Be in control of your mucus! Teach children to sneeze into their elbows, and use a tissue to prevent your germs from spreading. And throw away those tissues afterwards—don’t just wad them up somewhere.

We’re all in this together, folks. Let’s do what we can to stay a bit healthier and less sticky this winter.

Icky toys

July 4, 2010

The Pediatric Insider

© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD

Look around my waiting rooms: not a toy in sight, unless parents bring ‘em themselves. You can bet shared toys in preschool rooms and day cares are covered with a sticky sheen of snot—and the toys in a pediatrician’s office have the added bonus of being handled by kids who are sick. Mmmmm mmmmm good!

Researchers published a somewhat-nauseating study in February (summarized here) examining swabs from toys in pediatricians’ offices. About 30% of the toys had disease-causing viral particles; even after disinfection with commercial wipes, about 20% were still loaded with germs. In fact, some of the toys that were “clean” prior to their rubdown with disinfectants actually had more germs after they were sanitized.

Toys handled by sick kids get icky and germy, and are very hard to clean well. Bring your own toys along next time you visit the doctor’s office—or you might have a worse infection on your way out than on your way in!