medical worker washing hands
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Clean hands are important to control the spread of germs. But health care workers, on average, sanitize theirs less than half the times they should, researchers have found. That raises the risk of infection when you visit your doctor’s office or a hospital. What can you do? Ask your provider to wash up before treating you.

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stuffed bear in waiting room
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Waiting Room Toys

In your child’s pediatrician’s office, the books, games, and toys in the waiting room can carry the same germs as the kids that touch them. Stuffed animals may be the worst offenders, because they are harder to clean. Your best bet? Bring a plaything from home to keep kids occupied during the wait.

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stethoscope on childs stomach
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Your health care provider’s stethoscope could be covered in bacteria, including some that are resistant to antibiotics. In one study, more than half of workers had never cleaned this standard piece of equipment. Your risk of getting an infection this way is probably low. But the odds drop even more if the diaphragm -- the part that touches your skin -- is sanitized.

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flowers in hospital room
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Flowers and Plants

Cut flowers in vases and potted plants brighten up a hospital room or a doctor’s waiting area. But the water and soil can harbor a lot of bacteria. Could you get an infection from these sources? You’re probably fine, but to be extra careful, don’t keep them on your bedside table.

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doctor in lab coat and tie
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Coats and Ties

Though the classic image of a doctor in a white coat may comfort some people, the outfit also provides a friendly environment for microbes. One study found that doctors’ ties harbored bacteria. The white coat is often contaminated as well. One possible explanation: People clean those items less often than scrubs.

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ultrasound test
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Ultrasound Equipment

Researchers who looked at ultrasound equipment found bacteria nearly everywhere: the probe, cord, control knobs, computer keyboard, gel, and its bottle. Even when the part that touches you is covered by plastic, the rest of the tool probably wasn’t disinfected between patients. It’s possible a health care worker could pick up germs and pass them to you.

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checking medical record
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What’s on Your Chart?

Many people handle the folder that holds your medical records: doctors, nurses, other staff members. Studies in intensive care units found up to 90% of the binders were contaminated with bacteria. Among the microbes was methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which causes infections that are especially hard to treat.

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doctor using smartphone
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Hospital workers use mobile phones a lot, especially in intensive care units, to check in with other departments. Researchers have found that the devices are covered in bacteria, including drug-resistant types. In one study, a 1-minute phone call was long enough to transfer germs to hands that were previously clean.

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empty hospital bed
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Beds and Sheets

Exactly how sanitary is your hospital room? Researchers say that the usual cleaning between patients doesn’t always remove the germs from mattresses. Fungal infections at one pediatric facility were traced back to bed linens. Privacy curtains and handrails on beds are other places pathogens can linger.

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registration desk
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Unless it’s wiped down regularly with alcohol or hand sanitizer, that pen at reception may be covered in germs. A study found that when they weren’t cleaned between uses, writing instruments used by health care workers and hospital patients harbored bacteria. One with a rubber grip may be the germiest type of all: The pathogen Staphylococcus aureus can survive 48 hours on that surface.

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hospital floor
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Hospital room floors are sometimes covered in bacteria. Anything that drops down to make contact -- like your call button, for instance -- runs the risk of transferring those germs to your hands. Carpeting in health care settings harbors pathogens, studies show, though there’s limited evidence that anyone’s health is harmed by it.

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hand sanitizer
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What Can You Do?

The most important step you can take is to wash your hands (or use bottled sanitizer) after you touch surfaces that are likely to be contaminated, including elevator buttons and door handles. And avoid touching your face, since your mouth, nose, and eyes are great ways for bacteria and viruses to enter your body. And don’t be shy about asking a doctor, nurse, or other provider to wash their hands before they examine you.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 07/01/2019 Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 01, 2019


1) Yobro10 / Getty Images

2) XiXinXing / Getty Images

3) Zinkevych / Getty Images

4) Jupiterimages / Getty Images

5) PaulSimcock / Getty Images

6) gorodenkoff / Getty Images

7) XiXinXing / Getty Images

8) DragonImages / Getty Images

9) FhaSud / Getty Images

10) Thinkstock Images / Getty Images

11) sudok1 / Getty Images

12) WebMD




CDC: “Clean Hands Count for Safe Healthcare,” “Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health Care Facilities.”

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: “Encouraging Patients to Speak Up for Clean Hands.”

Pediatrics: “Infection Prevention and Control in Pediatric Ambulatory Settings.”

American College of Physicians: “How (and why) to clean a stethoscope.”

Journal of Infection Prevention: “To assess the stethoscope cleaning practices, microbial load and efficacy of cleaning stethoscopes with alcohol-based disinfectant in a tertiary care hospital.”

NT Research: “Flowers in the clinical setting: Infection risk or workload issue?”

The American Journal of Medicine: “What to wear today? Effect of doctor’s attire on the trust and confidence of patients.”

American Journal of Infection Control: “Bacterial counts from hospital doctors’ ties are higher than those from shirts,” “Bacterial contamination of health care workers’ white coats,” “Differential laundering practices of white coats and scrubs among health care professionals,” “Are hospital floors an underappreciated reservoir for transmission of health-care associated pathogens?”

Journal of Intensive Care: “Bacterial contamination of inanimate surfaces and equipment in the intensive care unit.”

Mayo Clinic: “MRSA Infection.”

Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control: “A randomized trial to evaluate a launderable bed protection system for hospital beds.”

The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal: “Mucormycosis outbreak associated with hospital linens.”

Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology: “Contamination of hospital curtains with healthcare-associated pathogens.”

The Journal of Hospital Infection: “Survival of Acinetobacter baumannii on bed rails during an outbreak and during sporadic cases.”

Clinical Microbiology and Infection: “Bacterial colonization on writing pens touched by healthcare professionals and hospitalized patients with and without cleaning the pen with alcohol-based hand sanitizing agent.”

Scripps Health: “Tips to Avoid Catching a Bug at the Doctor’s Office.”

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 01, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.