Horizontal transmission of bacteria, especially multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs), remains an important concern in hospitals worldwide. Some studies have implicated provider attire in the transmission of organisms within hospitals, whereas others have suggested that evidence supporting this notion is limited.
PubMed was searched for publications between 1990 and 2018 to identify studies of bacterial contamination of, or dissemination of, bacteria from physician, nursing, or trainee attire, with a specific focus on white coats and surgical scrubs. A total of 214 articles were identified. Of these, 169 were excluded after abstract review and 33 were excluded after in-depth full manuscript review.
Twenty-two articles were included: 16 (73%) cross-sectional studies, 4 (18%) randomized controlled trials, and 2 (9%) cohort studies. Results are organized by microbial contaminants, antibiotic resistance, types of providers, fabric type, antimicrobial coating, and laundering practices. Provider attire was commonly colonized by MDROs, with white coats laundered less frequently than scrubs. Studies revealed considerable differences among fabrics used and laundering practices.
Findings suggest that provider attire is a potential source of pathogenic bacterial transmission in health care settings. However, data confirming a direct link between provider attire and health care–associated infections remain limited. Suggestions outlined in this article may serve as a guideline to reduce the spread of bacterial pathogens, including MDROs, that have the potential to precipitate hospital-acquired infections.