Are therapeutic ultrasound units a potential vector for nosocomial infection?

Siobhan Schabrun, Lucy Chipchase, Heather Rickard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Nosocomial infections present a widespread problem in today's healthcare environment, with a significant number of patients acquiring an infection annually. With the contemporary transition of immunocompromised and high-risk patients to community-based care, therapeutic ultrasound has the potential to be a vector of infection in the physiotherapy setting. The purpose of the present study was to determine the degree of contamination on therapeutic ultrasound transducer heads and ultrasound gel after routine clinical use, and to evaluate the efficacy of recommended infection control procedures.

METHOD: The study consisted of two phases. Using a prospective cross-sectional design, microbiological cultures were obtained from 44 transducer heads and 43 gels. Subjects were drawn from a variety of physiotherapy practice settings. All samples containing more than five colony forming units per cm2 were considered contaminated. Following these measurements, a repeated-measures design was used to re-evaluate the 44 transducer heads for the amount and type of bacteria present after cleaning with a 70% alcohol wipe.

RESULTS: Twenty-seven per cent of transducer heads and 28% of gels were contaminated. Transducer heads showed fairly low levels of contamination across the sample, with the majority of organisms isolated found in normal skin and environmental flora. Gels were heavily contaminated with opportunistic and potentially pathogenic organisms, including Stenotrophomonas maltophilia, Staphylococcus aureus, Acinetobacter baumannii and Rhodotorula mucilaginosa. No multi-resistant organisms were identified. Cleaning with 70% alcohol significantly reduced the level of contamination on transducer heads (p < 0.01).

CONCLUSIONS: Therapeutic ultrasound equipment is a potential vector for nosocomial infection in physiotherapy patients. The risk of infection from transducer heads can be effectively removed by cleaning with 70% alcohol between patients. Further research into possible strategies to reduce the risk of infection from ultrasound gels is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-71
Number of pages11
JournalPhysiotherapy Research International
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2006


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