The stethoscope: a potential vector for COVID-19?
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A 32-year-old cardiology resident was scheduled to round on the COVID-19 wards at a large, government teaching hospital in Bahrain. To cover the increasing workload, the hospital required additional medical personnel to provide care for the numerous COVID-19 patients that were being seen. Prior to examining COVID-19-positive patients, she donned appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE)—a gown, gloves, N95 mask, and face shield. As part of her physical exam, she was obliged to auscultate her patients with a stethoscope, listening for cardiopulmonary abnormalities that can be comorbid with severe COVID-19 infection.

Thus, she was required to unzip her gown and keep her stethoscope either in her ears or around her neck. She used a standard-length Littman Cardiology™ stethoscope, requiring her to be in close proximity to the patient (i.e. lean over to the patient’s level).

One day after her rounds, she developed a sore throat. She subsequently was tested positive for COVID-19 via polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The resident cardiologist remembered one patient that she had examined where she suspected the transmission occurred.

She recalls examining a patient who was COVID-19 positive. Prior to the patient’s intubation she applied her own stethoscope directly to the patient’s chest to perform auscultation. The resident was perspiring and beginning to feel exhausted from her prior rounding and was breathing heavily as she unzipped her gown to place the stethoscope back within.

The resident believes that COVID-19 viral particles which were transmitted to the stethoscope became aerosolized and inhaled as she brought the stethoscope close to her mouth while tucking it back into her gown. The resident recovered, re-tested negative for COVID-19, and has now returned to her normal duties.