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01 Apr

Can clothing worn by healthcare professionals transmit diseases?

Healthcare apparel by Fashion Seal Healthcare®

This debate has been underway for many years now. A pilot study of Nursing Uniforms published by the Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology in 2012 will cause you to pause and think. This study differs from others in that sterilized scrubs were used and only worn inside the healthcare environment (not at home). The conclusion of this pilot study stated: 

“The scientific contribution of this study supports and builds on previous research that health care providers’ uniforms can be vectors that spread infections not only within hospitals, but also potentially within communities. Therefore, further research and policy that address this topic is imperative to protecting patients, health care providers, and the health of the public.”

This paper acknowledges previous studies conducted that found infections on healthcare uniforms – but those uniforms were worn “prior to the commencement of work”. Meaning the pathogens found may have come from outside the hospital.  

My take away from this: Uniforms, Scrubs, Ties, Lab Coats and “street cloths” – all could be potential transportation for infectious diseases. It seems that healthcare professionals are carrying pathogens into and/or around healthcare facilities, as well as to our families and friends from their place of work. However, isn’t it an equal risk of the clothing worn by the general public visiting loved ones and friends in a healthcare facility?  Granted the likelihood of the general public being exposed to infectious pathogens before entering a healthcare facility is low – it does make you think.

The issue is serious enough that the state of New York is taking action. New York Senate Bill 2376 proposes to establish a council to make recommendations for policy to enforce a healthcare provider hygienic dress code that could include financial penalties for non-compliance. The Bill is also considering soliciting the support of health and malpractice insurers by offering reductions in premiums and or deductibles as well as offering improvements in coverage levels. There must be a simpler way to address this issue. Once government imposes a law – it must be “policed” to be enforced, but at what cost? 

It was proven that a simple hand washing policy in the healthcare environment reduces the transmission of disease. This was the outcome of awareness and the solution was education, hand washing policies and placing sanitation stations in highly visible locations. It will be interesting to see how much traction and attention the New York Senate Bill 2376 receives to see if more states jump on board or if a simpler solution like the hand washing policy is brought to the table.

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