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Bacteria like short-sleeve uniforms as much as long-sleeve physician coats, a study finds

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February 10, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times
  • Put head-to-head, long-sleeve coats don't harbor any more bacteria than short-sleeve uniforms, researchers found
Put head-to-head, long-sleeve coats don't harbor any more bacteria… (Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty…)

In the epic battle of short-sleeve healthcare uniforms versus long-sleeve physician coats, which one harbors more bacteria?

It's a tie, finds a study that put both types of garments in a randomized head-to-head test. Some backstory: In 2007 the British Department of Health put out guidelines banning healthcare workers from wearing long-sleeve white coats, thinking that would tamp down the transmission of bacteria. Problem was, there was no decent evidence showing that short-sleeve coats were less contaminated than long-sleeve coats.

In this study, researchers from the University of Colorado randomly chose 50 physicians to wear freshly washed short-sleeve uniforms and 50 to wear their usual long-sleeve coats. Bacterial cultures were taken from three areas eight hours after doctors started their day: the physicians' wrists, their cuffs, and their pockets. Those who were wearing long-sleeve coats also had samples taken from the mid-bicep level on the sleeve of their dominant hand.

After eight hours, no statistically significant differences were found in bacterial contamination between the two types of coats, or between the wrists of those wearing short or long sleeves. However, those freshly washed short-sleeve coats were contaminated with 50% of the total bacteria found within a few hours after putting them on.

The study concluded, "Our data do not support discarding white coats for uniforms that are changed on a daily basis or for requiring healthcare workers to avoid long-sleeved garments."

The study was published online Thursday in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

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