Stethoscopes and Germs

           Stethoscopes and GERMS  
             The stethoscope is used by most care givers for monitoring the blood pressure. (Manual blood pressure unit) Sometimes it is used to listen for various lung sounds to complete a report to the physician. 

       These instruments usually are part of the caregivers’ supply of “tools” and travel where ever the nurse, nurse aid goes. How many patients, beds, table tops, handbags, and car seats will the stethoscope come in contact with in a day or week? Germs love to travel on the surface of stethoscopes from person to person. I have used a stethoscope for over 50 years both in the field and in a hospital environment after each use it was stuffed back into a lab coat pocket or trauma bag.  Far too many in the medical field have not given much thought to the potential contamination that this valuable tool can spread but awareness is growing.  

        Some steps to reduce the risk of cross contamination are:
·         Clean the diaphragm off with an alcohol swab prior to each use and after you have completed working with each person.
·         Clean any parts of the tubing that came into contact with the patient, bed or counter tops. You can use a fresh alcohol wipe or sanitary cloth for this.
·         Clean out the carry bag used for the stethoscope on a regular basis you may be surprised how much debris collects there.
·         For those instruments that are used on a daily basis, once a week remove the ring holding the diaphragm then clean the threads on the bell.  
·         If the person being cared for has any type of infectious illness or wound situation then a disposable stethoscope is a preferred item.  You should still clean before and after each use. This can be disposed of after the condition clears up.
·         Ear pieces can be wiped off and even removed to be cleaned with a cotton tip applicator dipped in peroxide or use something like Clorox wipes. Be sure to rinse them thoroughly then let them dry before using again.
·          Even when using the stethoscope on the same person/patient it is a good idea to wipe it off after each use.
·         If the plastic disc (diaphragm) is damaged, cracked it needs to be replaced as soon as possible. Germs get into the damaged part faster than I can spill coffee on a new white shirt.  A damaged diaphragm will reduce sound transmission or prevent any sound coming through at all. 
       Old damaged tubing must be replaced as germs love to hide deep in any opening in the tubing. Sound transmission can be reduced or even blocked by old, stiff or heat damaged tubing. Replacement tubes were common in the past though it is now less expensive (cheaper) to replace with a new stethoscope. A few of the high end brands may have a lifetime replacement program offered by the manufacturer.
       All this may sound like a lot of work; it can be done in a matter of seconds for the cleansing. It’s a lot easier and safer to do than finding out a cross contamination happened.

The above are opinions of the author, for medical conditions it is best to contact your physician for advice.

For more information on the variety of stethoscopes available, replacement parts for some and or an evaluation of one that you have please stop by our showroom at:

Tucson Safety & Medical Supply
1740 E. Fort Lowell Road
Tucson, AZ 85719