ECG equipment: Wired for infection? : Nursing2023

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ECG equipment

Wired for infection?


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CONTAMINATED EQUIPMENT—monitors, beds, pumps, and just about anything else in the patient's environment—can contribute to the transmission of health care–acquired (nosocomial) infection. Even innocent-looking monitoring wires can harbor dangerous pathogens.

A recent article in AACN News1 cited a potential for infection from reusable ECG wires that were poorly decontaminated between patients. Contaminated ECG wires had previously been cited as a source of an outbreak of vancomycin-resistant enterococci.2 In a small study, 77% of supposedly clean wires were found to be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.3 More research is needed to definitively link contaminated ECG wires to health care–acquired infections, but we should assume that the potential exists and act accordingly.

Although disposable equipment is available, reusable wires that attach to single-use monitoring electrodes are still available in many facilities. Each facility's infection control policies should dictate how to clean wires after use; for example, using a hospital-grade disinfectant according to manufacturer's instructions. Facility policy on cleaning reusable equipment should be reviewed regularly and rigorously enforced. Make sure ECG wires and any other reusable equipment have been properly disinfected before you use them.

To minimize risks, facilities may consider switching to disposable or wireless equipment in ICUs and other units with very vulnerable patients (including patients with burns and those who've recently undergone major surgery). These options are especially appropriate in facilities that have ongoing problems with sternal infections following open-heart surgery. Although disposable and wireless technology is more expensive up front, in the long run, the expense may be far less than the costs associated with health care–acquired infection.

Douglas E. Houghton is a critical care nurse practitioner in the trauma intensive care unit at the University of Miami (Fla.)/Jackson Health System.


1. Brown DQ. Electrocardiography wires: A potential source of infection. AACN News. 23(9):12–15, September 2006.
2. Falk PS, et al. Outbreak of vancomycin-resistant enterococci in a burn unit. Infection Control Hospital & Epidemiology. 21(9):575–582, September 2000.
3. Jancin B. Antibiotic-resistant pathogens found on 77% of EKG lead wires. Cardiology News. 2(3):14, March 2004.
© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.