Ethanol-based cleanser versus isopropyl alcohol to decontaminate stethoscopes

Published:February 02, 2009DOI:
      Approximately 1 in 20 hospital admissions is complicated by a health care–associated infection. Stethoscopes may play a role in spreading nosocomial infections. The objective of this study was to determine the effectiveness of an ethanol-based cleanser (EBC) compared with isopropyl alcohol pads in reducing bacterial contamination of stethoscope diaphragms. Stethoscopes were cultured from medical professionals on 4 medical floors before and after cleaning with either EBC or isopropyl alcohol pads. The numbers of colony-forming units (cfu) grown were compared between the 2 cleaners and to baseline values. A total of 99 stethoscopes were cultured (49 EBC; 50 isopropyl alcohol), and all were positive for growth. After cleaning, 28.28% of the stethoscopes were growth-free (12 EBC; 16 isopropyl alcohol). Cleaning with EBC and isopropyl alcohol pads significantly reduced the cfu counts (by 92.8% and 92.5%, respectively), but neither was found to be statistically superior (F = 1.22; P = .2721). Cleaning a stethoscope diaphragm using either EBC or isopropyl alcohol led to a significant reduction in bacterial growth in culture. As an extension of the hand, a stethoscope should be cleaned with the same frequency as the hands. The simultaneous cleaning of hands and stethoscope may further increase compliance with current standards.
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