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Is Your Doctor Hazardous to Your Health?

Small study uncovers germ-ridden neckties on doctors

MONDAY, May 24, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Believe it or not, your doctor's dress code could pose a danger to your health.

A new study found plenty of germs lurking in the neckties worn by physicians at a New York City hospital.

The ties were eight times more likely to harbor bacteria than those worn by security workers in the same center, the researchers found. However, an epidemiologist stressed there's no proof that bacteria-ridden garments pose any harm to patients.

Experts do say illnesses transmitted within the walls of hospitals are on the rise, a major challenge in an age when a growing number of diseases have developed immunity to the drugs used to treat them. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2 million patients in the United States get an infection in hospitals each year, and about 90,000 of these patients die.

Researchers are looking for ways to combat the problem, and medical school student Steven Nurkin thought he might be onto something when he noticed doctors' neckties flapping in the faces of patients.

"They may be coughed on, come in contact with the bedding, or even have direct contact with the patient," Nurkin said. "So I thought that the necktie may have the potential for harboring pathogens, and even help in transmitting infectious diseases."

Nurkin and his colleagues at New York Hospital of Queens checked neckties worn by 42 physicians, physician assistants and medical students at the hospital. They also tested 10 neckties worn by security workers.

The findings were reported May 24 at the American Society for Microbiology general meeting in New Orleans.

Nearly half of the neckties worn by doctors harbored potentially dangerous bacteria that cause, among other things, serious lung infections. Only one of the ties worn by security workers did.

Nurkin said he's heard many suggestions about how doctors could deal with the potential necktie threat, from wearing bow ties or tie pins to using tie disinfectants or developing a "necktie condom." Another alternative would be to dump neckties altogether, said Nurkin, who added that there's room for more study of the possible danger of ties.

That's not necessary, said Frank Myers, an epidemiologist at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego.

"These bacteria are pathogens in hospitals, but finding them on a tie does not mean they are a problem," he said. "They have to be transmitted from that tie to the patient. The way that might happen is via hands. That is why patients need to advocate for themselves. Asking a physician to wash their hands is much more important than asking them not to wear a tie."

More information

For more on hand-washing, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To learn about antibiotic resistance, go to the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System.

SOURCES: Steven Nurkin, medical student, New York Hospital of Queens, New York City; Frank Myers, C.I.C., epidemiologist, Scripps Mercy Hospital, San Diego; May, 24, 2004 presentation, American Society for Microbiology general meeting, New Orleans
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