Nasty Neckties: Doctors' Ties Carry Germs

Ties Look Professional but May Carry Infection Risks for Patients

Medically Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson Mathis, MD on May 24, 2004
From the WebMD Archives

May 24, 2004 -- Dry clean frequently: Nearly half of all doctors' neckties carry disease-causing bacteria, a new study shows. They could spread infection among patients.

It's a wake-up call for doctors and other medical personnel. While wearing a tie looks professional, frequent cleaning should be standard practice.

"Studies such as this remind us about what we may bring to our patients' bedside," says researcher Steven J. Nurkin, with New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens.

He presented his findings at the 104th general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans.

In his study, Nurkin and his colleagues sampled neckties worn by male doctors, physician assistants, and medical students in a New York hospital.

During three randomly selected days, researchers collected the ties from the male clinicians in the surgical, medical, and cardiac intensive care units as well as surgical and medical floors. All the volunteers in this study were known to have daily contact with patients. Researchers also collected ties worn by hospital security guards -- people who have little interaction with patients.

And the Results Were ...

Laboratory testing showed that 20 of 42 clinicians' neckties carried bacteria, compared with 1 out of 10 of the ties worn by security guards, reports Nurkin.

In fact, a doctor was eight times more likely to carry potential disease-causing bacteria on his tie, compared with a security guard. None of the most prevalent germs was multidrug resistant, he says.

Is wearing a necktie really in the patient's best interest? Although medical staff and other hospital professionals are encouraged to wear ties, "the transmission of infection to patients ... must be considered," he says.

SOURCE: 104th general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, New Orleans, May 23-27, 2004.