To investigate the potential role of blood pressure (BP) cuffs in the spread of bacterial infections in hospitals.
A comprehensive, prospective study quantitatively and qualitatively evaluating the bacterial contamination on BP cuffs of 203 sphygmomanometers in use in 18 hospital units from January through March 2003.
A university hospital with surgical, medical, and pediatric units.
A level of contamination reaching 100 or more colony-forming units per 25 cm2 was observed on 92 (45%) of inner sides and 46 (23%) of outer sides of 203 cuffs. The highest rates of contamination occurred on the inner side of BP cuffs kept in intensive care units (ICUs) (20 [83%] of 24) or on nurses' trolleys (27 [77%] of 35). None of the 18 BP cuffs presumed to be clean (ie, those that had not been used since the last decontamination procedure) had a high level of contamination. Potentially pathogenic microorganisms were isolated from 27 (13%) of the 203 BP cuffs: 20 of these microorganisms were Staphylococcus aureus, including 9 methicillin-resistant strains. The highest rates of contamination with potentially pathogenic microorganisms were observed on cuffs used in ICUs and those kept on nurses' trolleys. For 4 patients with a personal sphygmomanometer, a genetic link was found between the strains isolated from the BP cuffs and the strains isolated from the patients.
The results of this survey highlight the importance of recognizing BP cuffs as potential vectors of pathogenic bacteria among patients and as a source of reinfection when dedicated to a single patient, emphasizing the urgent need for validated procedures for their use and maintenance.