White coats are a beloved symbol of the medical profession, but they may harbor harmful pathogens. To minimize any potential risk for patients, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) suggests that before seeing patients, physicians consider hanging up their coats or taking other steps to prevent the spread of infection via clothing.
No studies have directly linked health care workers’ apparel to hospital-acquired infections, but according to SHEA, plenty have found that white coats, uniforms, and ties are often colonized with harmful pathogens (Bearman G et al. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2014;34107-121). Pathogens isolated from health care worker apparel have included Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and vancomycin-resistant enterococci.
Bridget M. Kuehn. Time to Hang Up the White Coat? Epidemiologists Suggest Ways to Prevent Clothing From Spreading Infection. JAMA. 2014;311(8):786–787. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.794