Healthcare News & Insights

Short-sleeved lab coats just as germy as long-sleeved

New research refutes the idea that shorter-sleeved lab coats are less likely to transmit bacteria among patients.

Some hospitals (and individual health pros) have switched to short-sleeved lab coats under the belief that the reduction in the amount of fabric would also lead to a drop in the amount of bacteria picked up during the day — and potentially passed on to patients and co-workers.

But new research recently published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine indicates the efforts are for naught.

Researchers at the University of Colorado randomly assigned 100 doctors at one hospital to wear either the traditional long-sleeve coat or a short-sleeve version. During the course of the day, the doctors’ coats were swabbed at the wrists, cuffs and pockets to check for bacteria.

The researchers found no statistically significant difference between the amounts of the bacteria on the long- or short-sleeve coats.

Equally squirm-inducing: A newly cleaned lab coat doesn’t stay that way for long. Although the freshly laundered coats were virtually sterile when they were put on, within three hours, they had already picked up 50% of the bacteria that they would show at the end of a full shift.

Bottom line: Keep washing your hands folks. A lot.

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