Frequent contamination of nursing scrubs is associated with specific care activities

Published:January 11, 2018DOI:


      • Health care worker attire is frequently contaminated (30%) with bacteria.
      • Specific care activities (wounds and bathing) may increase contamination.
      • Contact precautions may be protective and are associated with decreased contamination.


      The objective of this article is to assess health care worker (HCW) and patient care factors associated with bacterial contamination of scrubs.


      We performed a cohort study of critical care HCWs. Participants were given 4 sets of new scrubs; each set was sampled 8 times during the 8-month study period on random days in the last 4 hours of the shift. Total colony counts and presence of prespecified pathogenic bacteria were assessed. Generalized estimating equation was used to identify factors associated with contamination.


      There were 720 samples obtained from 90 HCWs; 30% of samples were contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. Multivariate analysis showed that providing care for patients with wounds (odds ratio [OR], 1.75; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.17-2.62; P < .01) or giving a bath (OR, 1.46; 95% CI, 0.96-2.22; P = .07) was associated with higher odds of scrub contamination. A second model showed the average log colony count of bacterial contamination of scrubs was higher when a bath was given (log colony count difference, 0.21; P = .05) but lower among HCWs assigned to care for at least 1 patient on contact precautions (log colony count difference, 0.28; P < .01).


      HCW attire was frequently contaminated with bacteria. Providing care for patients with wounds or giving a bath were associated with scrub contamination by pathogenic bacteria. However, the amount of contamination was lower among HCWs who were assigned to care for patients on contact precautions.

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