BACKGROUND - Despite hand washing and other protocols surgical-site infections (SSIs) have not been eliminated. This implies that either current measures are not effective or there are alternative sources of bacterial exposure to the surgical wound. In this study we tested the hypothesis that stuffed animals or other items allowed to accompany pediatric patients to the operating room as a way to ease anxiety may represent a reservoir of bacteria.
METHODS - Stuffed animals brought into the operating room and stuffed animals that were washed and dried in a conventional washer/dryer and placed in clean sealable plastic bags were swabbed and bacterial colonies were quantified. Results were reported as no growth, light growth, moderate growth, and heavy growth.
RESULTS - All stuffed animals showed bacterial growth. A total of 79% of stuffed animals were effectively "sterilized" by a single wash and dry cycle in a conventional home washer/dryer. Sterilized stuffed animals remained sterile after being packed in a sealed bag for 24 hours.
CONCLUSIONS - These results indicate that items of comfort, such as stuffed animals, brought into the operating room with a benevolent purpose may represent a reservoir of bacteria that could lead to unwanted SSI. Washing an item of comfort 1 day before surgery effectively sterilizes that item of comfort. Future studies will be needed to determine a correlation between "culture positive" stuffed animals and SSI or if providing a child with a "sterile" stuffed animal reduces SSI.