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Research Suggests Reuse of Medical Tourniquets Spreads Bacteria

tourniquet bacteria

Tourniquets used in everyday medical care may contribute to cross-contamination between patients.

While the idea of a tourniquet to most people brings to mind a serious, traumatic wound, tourniquets are frequently used throughout healthcare settings.  Reusable tourniquets are used to locate a vein for a blood draw or IV.  If you have had a blood test, the chances are good some form of tourniquet was used to help speed the process.

Tourniquets and Contamination Rates

At a recent meeting of the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID), researchers from the Polytechnic Institute of Coimbra, Portugal, discussed research findings concerning tourniquets and contamination rates.

You are probably already familiar with the types of tourniquets used in these studies.  Sometimes made of elasticized cloth or rubber, tourniquets are quickly used and reused among patients.  Because tourniquets apply pressure to bare skin, it may be easier to transmit hitchhiking germs which are aggressively deposited on a new patient with each use.

Aimed at uncovering rates of contamination, the research group evaluated 20 clinical studies that offered data on the use of 1,479 tourniquets. Some of their findings include:

  • The rates of contamination of tourniquets varied between 10 and 100 percent
  • Staphylococci was the most commonly found bacteria on the reusable devices, contaminating 441 tourniquets
  • Other bacteria located on reusable tourniquets include Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, Acinetobacter baumannii, and Escherichia coli (E. coli), among others

In many cases, contact with a contaminated tourniquet or other device may not lead to illness.  Yet for individuals who are already immune-compromised or elderly, reusable tourniquets could pose a risk.  Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are a problem throughout the US.

The more comfortable cloth-covered tourniquets are reused more frequently and more likely to harbor bacteria.  While tourniquets can be cleaned, washing may not be routine.  When cloth frays or rubber cracks, the germ load increases.

70 Percent of Sampled Tourniquets had Some Contamination

Noting that their study reveals that 70 percent of sampled tourniquets bear some kind of contamination, researchers note, “These data reiterate the inherent risks that reusable tourniquets can pose to patient safety and care quality…the mandatory introduction of single-use disposable tourniquets in clinical settings should be considered as a potential resolution to our findings.”

For vulnerable patients, serious illness may arrive in the form of a contaminated stethoscope, bedding, or the tourniquet from a simple blood draw.  If you suffer serious injury in a healthcare setting, seek knowledgeable legal advice.

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