Community hospital stethoscope cleaning practices and contamination rates

Published:April 29, 2020DOI:


      • Stethoscope disinfection efficiency.
      • Hospital acquired infections caused by stethoscope.
      • Stethoscope cleaning practices.
      • Stethoscope contamination with bacteria.
      • Guidelines for stethoscope disinfection.


      In the United States, nosocomial infections are estimated to cause 72,000 annual deaths. The stethoscope, commonly used, is rarely reported as a potential vector. Our study aims to describe stethoscope contamination and the effect of self-reported cleaning practices among health care providers in a community hospital setting.


      Stethoscopes were collected at random times from health care providers and cultured per standard techniques. Providers answered a structured questionnaire related to their cleaning practices. Differences in bacterial growth rates and the impact of profession, cleaning frequency, and prior sanitization were evaluated.


      Of 104 cultured stethoscopes, 44% were from residents and medical students, from which 76% had bacterial growth, and 56% were from attendings, nurses, and respiratory therapists who had 91.4% growth (95% = confidence interval 0.62-0.86 and 0.81-0.96, respectively). Overall, 86.5% of providers claimed disinfection frequency compliant with Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines but there were no statistical differences between self-reported cleaning frequency or methods, and the presence of bacteria.


      Most stethoscopes are contaminated with bacteria, the presence of which was not affected by reported cleaning strategies.

      Key Words


      HAIs (hospital acquired infections), CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), IRB (institutional review board), CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments), ICU (Intensive Care Unit), ED (Emergency Department), RNs (registered nurses), VAP (ventilator-associated pneumonia), CR-BSI (catheter related blood stream infection), CAUTI (catheter-associated urinary tract infection)
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