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Study: Doctors' neckties provide nesting ground for germs

Updated:
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Your doctor's necktie may be hazardous to your health.

That's the conclusion of a new study by an American medical student who found that while neckties may look nice, they also provide a convenient nesting ground for germs.

Steven Nurkin, who is completing his medical studies at Israel's Technion University, said he came up with the idea for the study while doing an elective course at New York Hospital Queens.

Nurkin, used to the casual open-collar atmosphere at Israeli hospitals, immediately noticed that his American colleagues wore ties.

``While examining patients, they would lean over, and their neckties would swing onto the bedding or onto the patient. Often it got coughed on or came into contact with a variety of other things,'' said Nurkin, 27, a native of Brooklyn.

Although the doctors would wash their hands after treating patients, they would also fix their ties after drying off, potentially re-exposing them to well-known hospital bugs, Nurkin said. The fact that neckties are rarely washed adds to the potential risk, he said.

Nurkin examined 42 ties of doctors and clinical workers at the New York hospital and found that 20 of them _ or 48 percent _ carried at least one infectious microbe.

In comparison, he examined the ties of 10 security guards who don't come into direct contact with patients. Only one of the ties carried a disease-causing microorganism.

``A clinician's necktie provides little benefit to patient care,'' the study concludes. ``This study brings into question whether wearing a necktie is in the best interest of our patients.''

Nurkin said the study did not find direct evidence that ties can cause infections, but it showed the potential risk.

``The necktie is almost on the front lines of treating patients with infectious diseases,'' he said.

Nurkin, the lead author of the study, presented his research last week to a conference of the American Society of Microbiology in New Orleans.

However, Dr. James J. Rahal, director of the infectious disease section at New York Hospital Queens, cautioned against reading too much into the study.

He said there was no evidence that ties present any additional health risk, noting that all the bacteria found in the study were common and easily treated by antibiotics.

``These are not dangerous ties,'' he said. ``These are not organisms we consider dangerous in the hospital. These were the organisms that are normally found in our environment.''

Israel Steiner, a professor of neurobiology and expert in infections of the nervous system at Hebrew University, agreed that any additional risk by neckties is probably minimal. He said that doctors' clothes, medical equipment and jewelry are all exposed to germs.

``Basically, I don't think this adds to the risk of infections in hospitals,'' said Steiner, who conceded that he is one of the few Israeli physicians to wear a tie.

Steiner said a better study might have been a comparison of doctors' ties with other articles of clothing they wear. He said a good follow-up would be to ask a group of well-dressed doctors to work without ties for two weeks and see whether there was a change in the overall risk of infection.

Nurkin said the study was meant to raise awareness of a potential risk and help provide better quality care. Possible solutions for the problem include wearing bow ties or tie clasps, using disinfectant or even a ``necktie prophylactic.''

``We also can imitate the doctors in Israel, who rarely wear neckties,'' he said.
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