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Why You Should Not Hug Your Nurse

Tim Boyer's picture
Nurse scrubs harbor dangerous pathogens

A hug is understandable as a show of gratitude to someone who is taking care of you or a loved one. But did you know that it’s a potential health risk to hug your nurse? Here’s what a recent study found and why you should resist the urge to hug your nurse.


Disease transmission within a hospital is a serious problem and medical researchers are seeking to understand where disease transmission control is lacking in what they refer to as “the transmission triangle”―which involves the patient, the patient’s room where care is administered, and the health care provider who treats the patient.

According to a recent CBS News report, medical researchers found that it’s not just the touching of a sick patient by a nurse or other medical professional that can cause disease transmission problems in the hospital, but that hospital rooms are the weak link in transmission control and nurses’ scrubs pick up a significant amount of pathogens from those rooms.

“This study is a good wake-up call that health care personnel need to concentrate on the idea that the health care environment can be contaminated,” said Deverick Anderson, M.D., the study’s lead author and associate professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. “Any type of patient care, or even just entry into a room where care is provided, truly should be considered a chance for interacting with organisms that can cause disease.”

In the study researchers swabbed the sleeves, pockets, and midriffs of the surgical scrubs of 40 intensive care unit nurses at Duke University Hospital both before and after a shift. The swabs were then cultured and compared with respect to the presence of five pathogens known to cause difficult-to-treat infections, including MRSA. Furthermore, swabs were likewise collected from the bodies of all patients the nurse cared for during each shift and the patients’ room contents (bed, bedrail, and supply cart), and also cultured for the presence of the five pathogens.

What the researchers found was that from the 2,185 cultures from the nurses’ clothing, 455 from the patients, and 2,919 from the patients’ rooms, that the pathogens were not present on the nurses’ scrubs at the start of their shift, but were definitely present by the end of the shift in significant amounts.

• There were 12 confirmed instances when at least one of the five pathogens was transmitted from the patient or the room to the scrubs.

• Six incidents each involved transmission from patient to nurse and room to nurse.

• An additional ten transmissions were from the patient to the room.

• The analysis of the cultures determined that pockets and sleeves of the scrubs were most likely to be contaminated, as were the bed rails in the rooms.

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The significance of the findings was that not only should disease transmission control focus on the patient-to-nurse interaction, but that the hospital room itself should be approached with equal consideration and caution.

CBS News quotes Dr. Anderson as stating, “I think sometimes there’s the misconception that if, for instance, a nurse is just talking to patients and not actually touching them, that it might be OK to skip protocols that help reduce pathogen transmission, like washing hands or wearing gloves…the study’s results demonstrate the need for caution whenever health care providers enter a patient room, regardless of the task they’re completing.”

Infection Control: What's Wrong With This Video?

Here’s an informative video that challenges healthcare workers to see if they can identify “what’s wrong with this video” regarding disease transmission control:

For more about where germs are forever lurking, here are some selected related articles:

5 Things You Touch Every Day That Are Dirtier Than Your Toilet

5 Surprising Germ Hot Zones in Your Kitchen

Four Places You Insert Money, Get Lots of Germs

Nurses: What Germs are you Taking Home with You?

Reference: CBS NewsNurses' scrubs can harbor nasty germs

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