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Dirty Scrubs and Other Disease-Spreading Attire

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, January 30, 2014

The long-sleeved monogrammed lab coat, steeped in medical tradition and infectious bacteria, will become a relic if guidelines on clinician attire from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America are taken seriously by hospitals and health systems.


Gonzalo Llorens Bearman, MD

Photo: Samir/Flickr

What should conscientious medical clinicians wear to avoid contaminating their patients with bacteria that can lead to infections?

A better question might be 'what should they NOT wear?'

The thought crosses my mind whenever I'm out and about in the neighborhood because I live in the shadow of two major tertiary hospitals. Always there are doctors, nurses, and technicians in lab coats or scrubs going about their non-clinical business.

I've even seen clinicians in scrubs (and even flip-flops)

  • At the bank
  • At the grocery store
  • Walking their dogs (and carrying poop bags )

Female clinicians seem to wear a lot of necklaces and bracelets. Some men wear neckties. A few of them have dangling hospital IDs on lanyards around their necks. And most wear rings.

I've even seen doctors' neckties flapping over grocery carts. Is this okay? Or is it dangerous?

This week, a paper from the Guidelines Committee of SHEA, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, addressed many of these issues, outlining what we know about infection transmission through attire, and a lot of what we don't, and offering guidance until we figure it all out.

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3 comments on "Dirty Scrubs and Other Disease-Spreading Attire"


Alun Jones (2/3/2014 at 9:09 AM)
80% of contamination entering critical environments is done so via feet or wheels. How many hospitals are addressing this by using floor level contamination control solutions such as polymeric flooring?

Bob Hawkins (2/1/2014 at 4:38 PM)
Cheryl, great stuff. Hospitals need to thing of the less obvious places that spread germs, disease and infections. My mother was in an anti contamination room at a Fr. Myers hospital where they took great pains to keep germs away. She went in for a hip fracture and was hampered by infections. I watched every day as a cleaning woman moved the same mop and bucket and dirty water from room to room, swabbing the floors. Only latèr after my mother died there did it occur to me that they might be spreading a germ soup from room to room.. What do you think?

Michael Cylkowski (1/30/2014 at 6:29 PM)
Thanks Cheryl for addressing this issue. It's just as important to not bring those microbes into the community when they wear their scrubs everywhere. Most ORs insist that the clinician change before re-entering the OR, even if they've only been gone a short while. But nobody stops them from walking the streets in their scrubs. I actually saw a cardiologist I know go into a Brookstone Store and lay down on the mattress to try it out - in his dirty scrubs and surgical booties. The store manager called him on it and asked him to leave the store. Several people gave the manager a standing O.