Study Finds Doctors' Neckties Carry Pathogens

ByABC News
May 21, 2004, 10:04 AM

May 25 -- When your doctor smoothes his tie, leans over, places a stick in your mouth and asks you to say "ah," have you ever found yourself wondering where his tie has been?

Steven Nurkin did. The fourth-year medical student at the Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine in Haifa, Israel, got to thinking that with hospital infections affecting 5-10 percent of all admitted patients, it might be interesting to analyze doctors' neckties for disease-causing pathogens.

So, while doing a rotation at a hospital in New York City, Nurkin and colleagues decided to start swabbing ties and culturing each sample.

What he found was more than a little alarming.

Among 42 male surgical clinicians surveyed at the New York Hospital, Queens, nearly half were toting infection-causing pathogens on their ties. Some of the surveyed doctors wore white coats, but almost none kept them closed because, Nurkin says, they found it too restricting.

To make sure the pathogens weren't just a common coating on all men's neckties, Nurkin also screened the ties of 10 hospital security guards who had minimal contact with patients.

Among the guards' ties, only one hosted a pathogen, which was mostly harmless and common to human skin.

"The necktie is important for the doctor-patient relationship," said Nurkin. "But it's also there on the front lines dangling in front of patients as the doctor makes his rounds."

Nurkin presented his findings Monday at an American Society for Microbiology meeting.

Costly Problem

Infections can be a deadly and pricey problem for hospitals. A 2003 study found that hospital-borne pathogens lead to over 2 million infections and about 90,000 deaths a year. The problem costs the health care industry $4.5 billion to $5.7 billion a year, concluded the research, which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Nurkin is quick to point out that his study did not prove doctors' neckties spread infection in hospitals, only that they carry this potential.