Bacterial contamination of surgical scrubs in the operating theater

Am J Infect Control. 2020 Jan;48(1):56-60. doi: 10.1016/j.ajic.2019.06.022. Epub 2019 Jul 27.


Background: Measures for the prevention of postsurgical infections include issuing special scrubs for the operating room (OR) and prohibiting walking out of the OR complex wearing these scrubs. The aim of this study was to provide further data on bacterial contamination of surgical scrubs.

Methods: Specimens were collected at the entrance to the OR from surgical scrubs worn by surgeons. Participants completed a questionnaire regarding the times, places, and activities in which they were involved during the time interval they were wearing the scrubs.

Results: Among the 133 surgeons who participated, the median colony-forming unit (CFU) count was higher (39 CFU/plate) for their scrubs than for clean scrubs worn by the control group (3 CFU/plate; n = 11; P < .001), but there was no significant difference between the study and control groups in the rate of carriage of pathogenic bacteria (13% and 9%, respectively). The majority of the bacteria isolated were considered commensals. Fifty-five (41%) of the surgeons stated that before sampling they took part in medical activities, and 45 (34%) participated in non-medical activities. Practicing these activities was associated with a higher number of CFUs compared to not being involved in such activities (P < .05).

Conclusions: Our data show that, even in less than optimal situations when scrubs are worn outside the OR, surgical scrubs are contaminated with a low bacterial load and only a small number of pathogenic bacteria.

Keywords: Bacterial load; Cloth sampling; Operating room; Surgeons; Uniforms.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Bacterial Load / methods
  • Equipment Contamination / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Operating Rooms*
  • Surgeons
  • Surgical Attire / microbiology*