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Spreading Germs in the Audiology Office 

This opinion editorial suggests some hygiene do’s and don’ts that may help assure a healthy work environment.

Douglas L. Beck and Robert Kemp

H1N1. Cold and flu season… you know the drill. Rabin (2009) reminds us that not everyone washes with soap after using the restroom. Indeed, only about two-thirds of women and one-third of men use soap. She also reports that different reminder messages are useful depending on gender. For example, “Wash your hands with soap” was enough of an inspiration for women to comply. Men, as one might expect, needed a stronger message to comply, such as “Soap it off or eat it later.” Yikes!

Rabin reports that researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine recently installed wireless devices to record bathroom entry in tandem with soap use and they flashed various illuminated messages above the restroom doorway to see which (if any) altered behavior across 200,000 restroom visits. The good news is both genders were motivated by reminders to wash with soap. The bad news is, both genders needed to be reminded.

Nonetheless, as the topic is an ever-lasting and universal one, I asked my old friend and germ-expert, Robert Kemp, to help develop a short list of do’s and don’ts to help assure a healthy work environment. Here is what we came up with (in no particular order).

Quick List of Clinical Cleanliness Tips
  1. Use appropriate wipes on all counter surfaces daily (or more).
  2. If you have toys in the waiting room, sound booth, etc., clean them before and after each use.
  3. If you use headphones, clean them with wipes before and after every patient. (Also, clean the BC oscillator, ABR equipment, real-ear equipment, OAEs, etc.)
  4. Wash with soap before and after every patient.
  5. Do not reach out to accept a hearing aid in your un-gloved hand (sorry!). Have the patient place it on a tissue or another disposable surface.
  6. Familiarize yourself with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Universal Precautions.
  7. Be sure to NOT to re-use ear inserts, probes, or tools without sterilizing them first.
  8. Keep tissues on all desks.
  9. Make sure the rest rooms have soap and paper (disposable) towels.
  10. Remember what mom told you—cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough. Coughing or sneezing into a sleeve is better than doing so into the hands. If you do cough or sneeze into your hands use waterless hand de-germer immediately. By the way, Bankaitis (2005) found fecal borne bacteria on hearing aids. Why? People do not wash hands (see above).
  11. Don’t eat where you work. That is, do not eat or keep food on the counter where you work on hearing aids or do testing, etc.
  12. If you are sick, re-schedule and stay home. Your patient’s immune response varies dramatically—do not expose them to your illness.
For More Information, References, and Recommendations:
Beck DL. (2008) On Wipes and Bacteria in Clinical Settings.

Beck DL. (2008) Audiology, Scrubs, and Germaphobia.

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): Universal Precautions for Prevention of Transmission of HIV and Other Bloodborne Infections.

Parker-Poe T. (2008) The Doctor’s Hands Are Germ-Free. The Scrubs Too?

Rabin CR. (2009) Awareness: Prodding People to Wash Their Hands in Restrooms. In VITAL SIGNS, New York Times, October 20, 2009.

Sturgulewski SK, Bankaitis AU, Klodd AD, Haberkamp T. (2006) What’s STILL Growing on Your Patients’ Hearing Aids? Hearing Journal (59)9:45-48.


Douglas L. Beck, AuD, Board Certified in Audiology, is the Web content editor for the American Academy of Audiology.

Robert Kemp works with Oaktree Products in St. Louis, MO.