Dirty Scrubs and Other Disease-Spreading Attire

Cheryl Clark, 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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