Staphylococcus aureus and stethoscopes

Karina J Kennedy, Dianne E Dreimanis, Wendy D Beckingham and Francis J Bowden
Med J Aust 2003; 178 (9): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2003.tb05295.x
Published online: 5 May 2003

To the Editor: It has been well established that improved compliance in hand washing significantly reduces hospital-acquired infections and cross transmission of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.1 Although there have been no reports of infections resulting from cross-contamination via stethoscopes, studies have demonstrated that 80%–100% of these appliances are colonised by bacteria.2-5 However, most of the organisms isolated are considered non-pathogenic. The most common potentially pathogenic organism isolated from stethoscopes is S. aureus, with a prevalence of 4.2%–27.5%.2-5 Cleaning with either 70% isopropyl alcohol or benzalkonium chloride wipes can reduce the bacterial count on stethoscopes by 94%–100%.3,5


  • 1. Pittet D, Hugonnet S, Harbarth S, et al. Effectiveness of a hospital wide program aimed at improving compliance with hand hygiene. Lancet 2000; 356: 1307-1312.
  • 2. Smith MA, Mathewson JJ, Ulert A, et al. Contaminated stethoscopes revisited. Arch Intern Med 1996; 156: 82-84.
  • 3. Bernard L, Kereveur A, Durand D, et al. Bacterial contamination of hospital physician's stethoscopes. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 1999; 20: 626-628.
  • 4. Marinella MA, Pierson C, Chenoweth C. The stethoscope — a potential source of nosocomial infection? Arch Intern Med 1997; 157: 786-790.
  • 5. Jones JS, Hoerle D, Riekse R. Stethoscopes: a potential vector of infection? Ann Emerg Med 1995; 26: 296-299.


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