home News, Scholarly Literature (Journals, Books, Reports) Ever been grossed out by hospital workers wearing scrubs wherever they go? New study relates to this

Ever been grossed out by hospital workers wearing scrubs wherever they go? New study relates to this

When I walk around UC Davis campus or visit areas near hospitals I am always dismayed by the number of people wearing their scrubs when they go out to lunch, seminars, or just walk around.  I have always wondered whether those scrubs harbor anything nasty.  Well, a new study in the American Journal of Infection Control apparently addresses this, though I note, the paper is not freely available and I have not read it.  Here is the abstract:


Uniforms worn by medical and nursing staff are not usually considered important in the transmission of microorganisms. We investigated the rate of potentially pathogenic bacteria present on uniforms worn by hospital staff, as well as the bacterial load of these microorganisms.


Cultures were obtained from uniforms of nurses and physicians by pressing standard blood agar plates at the abdominal zone, sleeve ends, and pockets. Each participant completed a questionnaire.


A total of 238 samples were collected from 135 personnel, including 75 nurses (55%) and 60 physicians (45%). Of these, 79 (58%) claimed to change their uniform every day, and 104 (77%) defined the level of hygiene of their attire as fair to excellent. Potentially pathogenic bacteria were isolated from at least one site of the uniforms of 85 participants (63%) and were isolated from 119 samples (50%); 21 (14%) of the samples from nurses’ gowns and 6 (6%) of the samples from physicians’ gowns (P = NS) included of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.


Up to 60% of hospital staff’s uniforms are colonized with potentially pathogenic bacteria, including drug-resistant organisms. It remains to be determined whether these bacteria can be transferred to patients and cause clinically relevant infection.

But there are some news stories going around, probably based on a press release, that tell some of the story.  For example: Hospital garb harbors nasty bacteria, study says – Health – Infectious diseases – msnbc.com.

Seems that they cultured microbes from the scrubs from nurses and doctors and characterized what types of microbes were present.  I am always uncomfortable with making too many inferences from such studies since a list of microbial types does not necessarily tell you if any of those are pathogenic or nasty in some way.   But still – I think the point is important.  The clothing of medical professionals is very likely home to all sorts of nasty bugs.  And those professionals should be a bit more careful where they go in said clothing.

I note this is not really a new issue.  There are many stories about this every couple of years.  For example:

But it is good to be reminded of it every once in a while.  I note – the same issue applies to Veterinary personnel, and from what I can tell at UC Davis many of them seem even more cavalier with wearing scrubs all over the place than are the people who treat people.

Lab coat and scrubs

6 thoughts on “Ever been grossed out by hospital workers wearing scrubs wherever they go? New study relates to this

  1. As a scientist and scientific manager involved with my biotech/pharma companies biological safety policies, we had to enforce no lab coats or gloves in the office spaces, rest rooms, conference rooms, library or lunch room. The biggest problem we had was with gloves and door handles. Lab workers were supposed not to use gloves on door handles as they are also used by people with ungloved hands. When going between labs – a frequent occurrence — lab workers didn’t want to unglove (for convenience only to require re-gloving-up in the next lab), thereby touching the door handles and thereby further incentivizing them to remain gloved (since others were contaminating the door handles) but leaving non lab workers at risk for exposure to potentially pathogenic bugs and chemicals. One solution would have been doors with engineering controls not requiring hand control.

  2. Was there a control in the study? I’ll bet that if you swabbed ordinary sitting at the computer clothes worn by non-medical workers you’d also find lots of bacteria including a variety of pathogens. I worry about folks wearing scrubs too, but are they really much more dangerous than ordinary office clothes? That’s what scientific studies are for, to find out stuff like that.

    (Remember the study showing that MacDonald’s tables or whatever had more bacteria than their toilets? We live in a sea of bacterial scum, but some scums are scummier than others.)

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