Rats of the Middle Ages, move over -- there's a new disease vector in town: health-care workers, and they're packing methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in their stethoscopes.
This story crawled out into the TV news recently, in reaction to a recent paper in Prehospital Emergency Care.
In a study of emergency medical services providers, 50 stethoscopes were cultured, and 16 (32%) grew MRSA. Oddly enough, 32% of the same providers had no clue when they had last cleaned their stethoscopes. Coincidence, or satanic confluence?
This isn't a new idea. My cursory search of PubMed turned up a number of other articles on the same topic, including a 1995 study showing that 89% of the stethoscopes carried by ER workers were contaminated with staphylococcus. What's new is that this ubiquitous staph is lately more and more likely to be the more dangerous MRSA variety.
However, if you are going to catch a disease because you were auscultated, touched or sneezed on by a physician, chances are really, really good that it won't be from a radiologist. I'm proud to say that my specialty is leading the fight against this scourge. While the internists are obsessively scrubbing their stethoscopes between patients, we have an far more effective plan: we don't even know where our stethoscopes are.
We invite other physicians to join our crusade -- "Just Say No!" -- to stethoscopes.