Why a doctor’s white coat could be contributing to the spread of harmful bacteria

The honorary white coat most doctors wear is a symbol of their profession, showcasing their doctorness and clout. Patients actually prefer their doctors to dress in a white coat, perhaps because it helps the professional stand out in appearance alone. (We are not making this up, read the study here)

While we all appreciate the white coat, did you know it could be putting you in harm’s way? Yes, the famous white coat has been linked to harboring dangerous bacteria associated with hospital-acquired infections. The New York Times reported, “As many as 16 percent of white coats tested positive for MRSA, and up to 42 percent for the bacterial class Gram-negative rods.

These bacteria are causing problems in our hospitals and clinics. Bacteria spreads and based on our body’s innate immune response, it can be no big deal or cause serious problems such as rash, pneumonia, skin infections, blood infections, and even sepsis. It is estimated that by 2050, hospital-acquired infections will be a leading cause of death.

We are facing a myriad of bacteria problems in healthcare. Bacteria are smarter than ever, causing superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. There is a problem, and we need to be asking the question, what we can be doing to be smarter versus being reactive to infections and problems after they appear?

Antibiotics are not the answer. It takes years to get a new drug on the market, even if it is fast-tracked. Some suggest antimicrobial bed linens, curtains, lab coats, scrubs and more. This is costly upfront and the technology does exist, but are hospitals willing to put money into something that can save them over time?

The problem does not only exist on textiles such as white coats and bed linens. Phones, computer screens, tablets, stethoscopes, even packaging have harmful bacteria on them. We know our skin is the first line of defense against any bacteria, so should we be seeking ways to better our skin health? No, we are not discussing preventing wrinkles, actually having a conversation about warding off the bad bacteria?

Did you know we all have “good” bacteria that help us to fight off the bad stuff? In finding solutions and being proactive, we need to understand what technology exists that does not remove the good bacteria we need to thrive and perhaps better understand the microbiome of our skin.

Bacteria are spreading. Hospitals are full of these little germs just running around seeking to grab a hold of something or someone to attach to, so they can grow. As the grow, they become smarter, more resistant to drug-related treatments. How can we be smarter in how we care for ourselves and protect ourselves when we are in a hospital or clinical setting?

You might think it would be to reach for hand sanitizer. But that can be harmful as the alcohol can strip your good, protective bacteria. Hand-washing with soap and water is still the best. A medical coat study also showed, white coasts worn as a short sleeve or rolled up above the elbow helped to reduce the spread of harmful bacteria.

Awareness of your surroundings in hospitals and clinics is key. Protect yourself. Be smart about who and what you come in contact with, and always wash your hands, and try to keep your hands away from your face. Your nose, mouth, ears, and eyes are the fast lane for bacteria to get into your space and takeover.