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16-05-2011 | Article

Long-sleeves no more contaminated after hospital shift than short-sleeves


Free abstract

MedWire News: US research shows that residents and hospitalists who wear long-sleeved white coats at work are no more likely to develop bacterial contamination after an 8-hour shift than their counterparts who wear short-sleeved uniforms.

Indeed, newly-laundered short-sleeved uniforms become contaminated within hours of being at work and to the same degree as infrequently laundered white coats.

The finding refutes the 2007 recommendation from the British Medical Association to avoid traditional white coats and requires short-sleeved uniforms on the grounds that cuffs of long sleeves are more likely to be heavily contaminated and come into contact with patients.

"No difference was observed with respect to the extent of bacterial or MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] contamination of the wrists of physicians wearing either of the two garments," report Marisha Burden (Denver Health, Colorado) and colleagues.

One hundred residents and internists were randomly assigned to wear either their own white coat (n=50) or a newly laundered standardized short-sleeved uniform, and were alerted on the day of the study to avoid pre-washing of white coats.

Burden and co-workers compared the degree of bacterial and MRSA contamination on both types of clothing during and after an 8-hour workday.

No significant differences were observed between the colony counts cultured from white coats and short-sleeved uniforms, reports the team in the Journal of Hospital Medicine. There was also no significant difference in colony count between samples from the pockets of the white coats and the uniforms.

In all, 16% of doctors who wore white coats and 20% of those wearing short-sleeved uniforms had samples positive for MRSA.

While the frequency with which doctors washed their white coats varied quite dramatically (weekly to more than 8 weekly), this did not affect the colony count by site, nor did it affect the number of doctors found with MRSA contamination.

Interestingly, sequential culturing revealed that the short-sleeved uniforms were nearly sterile before wear, yet 3 hours into the shift nearly 50% of the colonies seen at 8 hours had developed.

These data suggest that "work clothes would have to be changed every few hours if the intent were to reduce bacterial contamination," conclude Burden et al.

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Sarah Guy