Anyone who has spent any time in a hospital has seen nurses walking around in hospital scrubs. The original purpose of scrubs was for use by hospital personnel before surgery so that they would have a clean set of clothing after “scrubbing” themselves clean before performing a surgery. Scrubs are now worn by many hospital personnel, not just those in operating rooms. In large metropolitan areas, it is not uncommon to see nurses commuting to and from work wearing scrubs.
Since the purpose of scrubs was originally to protect patients from potentially deadly bacteria that might have been carried on street clothes, the use of scrubs as everyday clothing carries the risk of bacterial contamination that could expose patients to dangerous infections. Researchers have sought to study just how likely that contamination might be.
In a recent study, researchers studied intensive care nurses who wore scrubs throughout their 12-hour rotations. Nurses were given three types of scrubs to wear: standard polyester-cotton scrubs; anti-microbial scrubs with a silver alloy embedded in its fibers; and anti-microbial scrubs impregnated with an ammonium and copolymer emulsion combination. Nurses were not told which type of scrubs they were wearing.
Researchers followed 40 nurses and took 2,919 cultures from the hospital environment and 2,185 cultures from clothing. They found that scrubs became contaminated with important pathogens in 16% of cases. This included cases in which staff had been warned against contact with patients due to severe bacterial infection. More significantly, the anti-microbial scrubs were not effective at reducing contamination.
The research confirmed that nurses’ scrubs regularly become contaminated with bacteria over the course of a shift and can act as a source of transmission of pathogenic bacteria, including MRSA, S. aureus, and C. difficile. For patients, that makes it all the more important that they ensure that their health care providers maintain proper hygiene during hospital visits. For healthcare providers, it provides a warning that they too should be attuned to hygiene and take every effort possible to minimize the transfer of dangerous bacteria within the hospital.