Question: Why not use alcohol wipes? May 17 2014

Today we are writing about a commonly asked question - why can't doctors, nurses and caretakers just use alcohol wipes to clean off the stethoscopes as they go from patient to patient.

This is a great question and we are happy to answer. Overall, there are lots of germs and pathogens that alcohol is NOT effective against. This includes bacteria like Clostridium difficile which causes 14,000 American deaths each year. Individuals at the highest risk include patients taking antibiotics and receiving medical care - hence why this is a common Healthcare Associated Infection.

Alcohol damages stethoscopes. Dr. Didier Pittet, the leader in stethoscope transmission research, posses a question: How to clean the stethoscope without damaging it? “If I show you actually my own stethoscope, the stethoscope that I use for more than 30 years and that I used to actually cleanse, you can see that the stethoscope has been highly damaged so we need to find a way to cleanse the stethoscopes without damaging them.”

StethoBarrier protects patients from dangerous pathogens and protects physician’s stethoscopes from harsh disinfectants.

Viruses without an outer envelope are also unbothered by alcohol. For example, norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the US. Each year, it causes 19-21 million illnesses and contributes to 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control. Norovirus can be spread through contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces. A study found that using alcohol sanitizers was linked to an INCREASE in norovirus cases in hospitals in the New England region: Click here to read the research study. 

In conclusion, alcohol does not work against many organisms. Furthermore, alcohol is known to dry rubber and can damage the seals around the stethoscope's diaphragm, as well as the diaphragm itself. It is recommended that alcohol be used on a surface for at least 15 seconds in order to be effective, while StethoBarrer can be applied in under 5 seconds. Other studies have shown that one of the reasons healthcare workers say they forget to clean their stethoscope is because there is no visual reminder: Click here to read the research study.

StethoBarrier solves that problem - we are blue and either the doctor or the patient will notice if it is missing!

For those interested, here is an excerpt from our review of Research and Evidence:

"Common methods of disinfection are insufficient, thus stethoscopes should be protected from contamination during patient contact. Alcohol-based sanitizers (ABS) are prevalent disinfectants, however they are not effective compared to soap and water washing against non-enveloped viruses, some enveloped viruses, gram-positive bacteria and spores, including norovirus, H1N1, C. difficile and Cryptosporidium parvum, respectively.17–23 C. difficile spores can be transmitted even after use of ABS, hence gloves are the most effective method of preventing transmission of infection when caring for C. difficile infected patients.24–26 An investigation of increases in norovirus illnesses in northern New England found that preferential use of ABS over soap and water for hand hygiene was associated with an increased risk of norovirus outbreak.20 Submersion of stethoscopes in water has potential to interfere with the instrument’s functionality and is strongly discouraged by most manufacturers; soap and water sanitization is not feasible. StethoBarrier overcomes limitations to disinfection by precluding contamination from direct patient contact."