Investigating Electrocardiography Lead Wires as a Reservoir for Antibiotic-Resistant Pathogens

Hetal Gandhi, Sonia Sharma, Donna Gilski, Rebecca Beveridge, Parag Patel, Advocate Lutheran General Hosp, Park Ridge, IL



Hospital-acquired infections caused by antibiotic- resistant bacteria have become a major public health concern in recent years. Electrocardiography (ECG) lead wires conceal antibiotic-resistant bacteria and act as a vehicle for cross-contamination. The effects of these pathogens can be deadly to patients and detrimental to hospitals’ bottom line increasing costs and patient’s length of stay. A recent study examines the organisms found on ECG lead wires that are reused on patients.



After terminally cleaning intensive care units including ECG wires and cables, 35 randomly selected ECG lead wires were cultured before patient use. The cultures were obtained by “dipping and swirling all five lead wires together in a sterile container with a trypic soy broth (TSB) for 15 seconds.” After incubating the TSB for 12-24 hours, two Petri dishes, one of blood agar and one of MacConkey medium were plated with TSB and observed for growth and identification of organisms for a period of 48 hours.



Seventy-four percent (74%) of the 57 organisms found on the 35 cultures were resistant to one or more antibiotics. Of the 35 cultures, “65% (n=23) were positive for coagulase negative Staphylococcus (Staph), 11% (n=4) were Methicillin sensitive Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), 14% (n=5) were Vancomycine sensitive Enterococci species (VSE), 6% (n=2) were Vancomycine resistant Enterococci (VRE), 3% (n=1) were highly resistant Acinetobacter baumanil and 20% were other organisms including Clostridium, Flavimonas, Diptheroids and Enterobacter.









Reusable ECG lead wires in the intensive care unit setting harbor a variety of drug resistant organisms that can cause serious nosocomial infections. Despite rigorous decontamination methods, organisms on the ECG wires were not eliminated increasing patient’s risk of a hospital-acquired infection. Therefore, the study concluded that disposable ECG lead wires may reduce the risk and spread of hospital infections as well as improve patient safety.


Source: AHA, “2008 Quality Outcomes Abstracts,”.Circulation Vol. 117, No 21. May 21, 2008. Available at, accessed June 9, 2008