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Can Going To The Doctor Actually Make You Sick?

A new study has revealed that stethoscopes can be full of bacteria.

If you think heading to the doctor when you're not well is the answer, you may not want to read this next bit. You see, according to a new study, stethoscopes are loaded with bacteria that can cause serious infections.

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Told you that you may not want to read it.

That's the fairly disturbing finding from a new study published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked at 40 stethoscopes used by doctors in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the institution's medical centre.

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Every one of the instruments they looked at was contaminated with bacteria, and each carried the germ that causes staph infection -- even worse, half had MRSA  (also known as Golden Staph) bacteria.

Every one!

"This study underscores the importance of adhering to rigorous infection control procedures," said study senior author Dr. Ronald Collman, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

You think?

All 40 stethoscopes were significantly contaminated with a large number and extensive variety of bacteria, including some that can cause healthcare-associated infections and pneumonia, the study found.

It wasn't actually known if any patients became ill because of contact with the stethoscopes, and Dr Collman said the DNA test used to identify bacteria could not distinguish live from dead bacteria, so it is not clear if the stethoscopes would actually even spread disease-causing agents. Additional research is needed to address that question, he said.

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Image: Getty

You think?

No amount of post-use sterilisation (with alcohol wipes, bleach etc) could make the instruments as clean as new ones, leaving the researchers to suggest that single-use stethoscopes might help to reduce infection transmission in hospitals.

You think?

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So -- if you're spiralling with this news, as we are --  should you be scared of going to the doctor, armed with this knowledge?

Well no, says a very calm Dr Kean-Seng Lim, AMA NSW President. "I think the answer is that pretty much that the world is full of bacteria. Door handles, lift buttons, mobile phones, trolley handles... and most of us are resistant because our skin acts as a protective suit, if you like."

Bacteria are mainly a problem if you're cut, skin is burnt or you have a compromised immune system. This study was undertaken in an Intensive Care unit, where there are the sickest people. In the general community there would be less of a risk, but we do need to make sure we wipe down surfaces, stethoscopes and other areas.

"A rule I use is, do not go above the shoulders without first washing your hands -- we should assume that hands are always filled with bacteria and should go nowhere near the mouth or face. Stethoscopes are just one of many things to be aware of.  I'd simply use it as a message for daily hygiene."

Thank you Dr Lim. Phew.