Patient-to-patient transmission of nosocomial pathogens has been linked to transient colonization of health care workers, and studies have suggested that contamination of health care workers' clothing, including white coats, may be a vector for this transmission.
We performed a cross-sectional study involving attendees of medical and surgical grand rounds at a large teaching hospital to investigate the prevalence of contamination of white coats with important nosocomial pathogens, such as methicillin-sensitive Stapylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant S aureus (MRSA), and vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE). Each participant completed a brief survey and cultured his or her white coat using a moistened culture swab on lapels, pockets, and cuffs.
Among the 149 grand rounds attendees' white coats, 34 (23%) were contaminated with S aureus, of which 6 (18%) were MRSA. None of the coats was contaminated with VRE. S aureus contamination was more prevalent in residents, those working in inpatient settings, and those who saw an inpatient that day.
This study suggests that a large proportion of health care workers' white coats may be contaminated with S aureus, including MRSA. White coats may be an important vector for patient-to-patient transmission of S aureus.