March 27 (HealthDay News) -- One in three stethoscopes used by U.S. emergency medical service providers is contaminated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, a new study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey swabbed 50 stethoscopes used by independent emergency medical service (EMS) providers, including nurses, paramedics and EMTs, who visited the emergency department of a New Jersey hospital over a 24-hour period.
"Of the 50 stethoscopes, 16 had MRSA colonization, and the same number [of EMS providers] couldn't remember the last time their stethoscopes were cleaned," study author Dr. Mark Merlin, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said in a university news release.
Merlin was surprised at the high rate of MRSA contamination.
"I thought maybe 1 percent of stethoscopes would be infected," said Merlin, who noted that the median length of time between cleanings was one to seven days.
"The longer period of time between cleanings, the more likely it is you have this bacteria," he said.
Merlin added there's a simple solution for this potentially serious problem: "Provide isopropyl alcohol wipes at hospital emergency room entrances so EMS professionals can clean their stethoscopes regularly."
MRSA infections have been on the rise in recent decades, and many people have put the blame on hospitals. But this study shows that MRSA infections can be acquired before patients arrive at hospital, Merlin said.
The study was published in current issue of Prehospital Emergency Care.
SOURCE: University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, news release, March 25, 2009