November 20th, 2009

Ties Tied to Bugs

matching tie and handkerchiefAre doctors’ neckties causing infections?  That’s the implication of this Wall Street Journal piece:

The list of things to avoid during flu season includes crowded buses, hospitals and handshakes. Consider adding this: your doctor’s necktie. … A 2004 analysis of neckties worn by 42 doctors and medical staffers at the New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens found that nearly half carried bacteria that could cause illnesses such as pneumonia and blood infections. That compared with 10% for ties worn by security guards at the hospital.

This is old news, of course (yet somehow it warranted front page coverage in the WSJ, go figure).  In fact, the British went so far as to ban neckties for doctors entirely in 2006, stating a tie is an “unnecessary piece of clothing.”   (No comments about ascots, however.)

One problem with the cited study in the WSJ is that it does not link the wearing of neckties to actual infections in patients — and I don’t think any study has.  Meaning this:  do the patients of the necktie-wearing docs get more infections than the patients of MDs who dress more casually?

If not, then it’s just another study of this ilk:  “We cultured ________ [fill in the blank of some seemingly innocuous item — computer keyboard, reflex hammer, clock radio], and found evidence of staph and coliform bacteria in XX%.  These results suggest that [insert item] should be sterilized prior to patient care.”

My hunch:  neckties may carry bacteria — see this company’s antimicrobial neckties for vivid proof — but they are not themselves causing nosocomial infections.

But since I could be wrong on this one, should we get rid of neckties in the hospitals and clinics just in case?

Comments are closed.

HIV Information: Author Paul Sax, M.D.

Paul E. Sax, MD

Contributing Editor

NEJM Journal Watch
Infectious Diseases

Biography | Disclosures | Summaries

Learn more about HIV and ID Observations.