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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 17:20 EDT

Short-Sleeve vs. Long-Sleeve

February 16, 2011

(Ivanhoe Newswire) — Governmental agencies in the United Kingdom instituted guidelines banning physicians’ long-sleeved white coats to decrease the transmission of bacteria.  However, a new study has cleaned up the controversy by showing that after an eight-hour day, there’s actually no difference in contamination of long and shortsleeved shirts, or on the skin at the wearers’ wrists.

A group of clean-cut researchers from the University of Colorado decided to see if they could uncover some dirt by assessing the accurateness of the statement that longer sleeves lead to more contamination.  The group tested the uniforms of 100 physicians at Denver Health randomly assigned to wearing a newly washed, short-sleeved uniform or their standard long-sleeved white coat.

50 physicians were asked to start the day of the trial in a standard, freshly washed, short-sleeved uniform, and the 50 physicians wearing their usual long-sleeved white coats were not made aware of the trial date until shortly before the cultures were obtained, to ensure that they did not change or wash their coats.  Cultures were taken from the physicians’ wrists, cuffs and pockets.  No significant differences were found in bacteria colony counts between each style.

“We were surprised to find no statistical difference in contamination between the short- and long-sleeved workwear,” which lead researcher Marisha Burden, MD, was quoted as saying.  “We also found bacterial contamination of newly laundered uniforms occurs within hours of putting them on.”

The researchers moreover discovered that despite the freshly laundered uniforms being virtually sterile prior to being worn, by three hours of wear nearly 50 percent of the bacteria counted at eight hours were already present.

“By the end of an eight-hour work day, we found no data supporting the contention that long-sleeved white coats were more heavily contaminated than short-sleeved uniforms.  Our data do not support discarding white coats for uniforms that are changed on a daily basis, or for requiring health care workers to avoid long-sleeved garments,” concluded Burden.

SOURCE: Journal of Hospital Medicine, February 15, 2011