Does wearing scrubs off the job spread bacteria?

Healthcare workers wearing their scrubs in public places outside work settings may pose infection risks, according to Newsworks.

While it is not uncommon for hospital and clinic employees to wear their scrubs off the clock, there is a very real risk of those scrubs transmitting germs carried out of the hospital, Jonathan Eisen of UC Davis told the publication. Eisen said research indicates scrubs are susceptible to contamination and bacteria accumulation.

"[O]ne place we see a much higher frequency of [antibiotic-resistant bacteria] is in medical care facilities, [because] that's where people go when they are sick--hospitals," Eisen said. "The thing we don't know a lot about whether or not going outside the hospital after they have gotten contaminated causes any transmission of those microbes to other people."

In the absence of clear data about scrubs' transmission capabilities, infection prevention focuses more on evidence-based practices such as patient isolation, environmental disinfecting and hand-washing, Julia Sammons, medical director of the department of infection prevention and control at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), told Newsworks.

CHOP's anti-infection policies only apply to scrubs worn in the operating room and areas of the hospital where equipment is sterilized, neither of which are permitted to leave the hospital, Sammons said. All other scrubs can be freely worn anywhere. Newsworks contacted other area hospitals, which confirmed the same policy.

"So there's this big surface area, and it just seems as a precautionary principle, hospital and medical workers should try to do the simple things that could limit the possibilities of spreading organisms that you don't want," Eisen said. "It just doesn't seem that bringing scrubs outside of the hospital makes sense as common practice."

Last January, a report from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America made several recommendations for hospital dress codes to prevent the spread of infections such as MRSA and C. diff, including discouraging wrist watches, neck ties and long sleeves, as well as washing white coats in hot water and bleach at least weekly, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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