Cardigans – a potential vector of infection?
Each winter cardigans or long sleeved tops under uniform tunics appear as part of clothing worn by carers, nurses and other staff providing resident care. Does this practice increase the risk of cross infection?
There are certainly studies that demonstrate that uniforms become contaminated with potential pathogenic organisms including Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium difficile and Norovirus. It is more difficult to find evidence that links contaminated uniforms with the transmission of pathogens to patients and residents.
Most contamination occurs in areas of greatest hand contact such as pockets and cuffs, which may the cause the wearer to re-contaminate their cleaned hands. Long sleeves may also become contaminated with bodily fluids, which then directly contaminate another resident through direct hands on care. This would be a great way to spread around those multi-drug resistant organisms that live in the bowel, such as ESBL, VRE and CRE!
The biggest risk of wearing long sleeves when delivering care involving patient contact is that hand hygiene cannot be carried out effectively. Anyone who has been taught hand washing using the Glitterbug gel and UV light will remember how the wrists were often left glowing, demonstrating that your wrists also get contaminated and need cleaning. In many healthcare facilities across the world, a ‘Bare Below the Elbows’ policy is used to ensure that effective hand hygiene is undertaken. This applies to the use of an alcohol based hand rub or gel, as well as washing with soap and water.
So the next time that you put your cardigan on or come to work with a long-sleeved top, remember that, prior to any patient contact remove the cardigan or roll up your sleeves and perform hand hygiene.
 Mitchell et al. Role of healthcare apparel and other healthcare textiles in the transmission of pathogens: a review of the literature. Journal of Hospital Infection, 2015 Aug;90(4):285-92
Loh et al. Bacterial flora on the white coats of medical students. Journal of Hospital Infection, 2000 May;45(1):65-8.
Infection Prevention & Control Advisor