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Engagement rings carry dangerous bacteria, nurse researchers find

Nurse researchers are encouraging healthcare workers not to wear jeweled rings to work after research from The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano finds that jeweled rings have a high risk of carrying harmful bacteria — from MRSA to VRE.

20 percent of jeweled rings carried a high amount of harmful bacteria.

In a recent study on the presence of bacteria in jeweled and non-jeweled rings worn by healthcare professionals, a group of research nurses at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano (THHBP) found statistically significant differences between the two ring types, particularly that 20 percent of jeweled rings carried a high amount of harmful bacteria.

As a result of these findings, The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano’s research team is driving an awareness campaign among nursing units, encouraging employees to take off their jewelry when working to prevent the spread of bacteria from patient to patient.

“We were trying to figure out how we could get nurses to be more involved and to conduct research that was fun,” said Eram Samuels, BSN, RN, NE-BC, a clinical nurse manager at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano. “That got me to thinking what staff nurses can do, and something that they deal with every day is their attire. What they wear that may have an impact on infection.”

Led by Samuels, Susan Houston, PhD, RN, FAAN, NEA-BC, director of nursing research at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano, and Alaina Tellson, RN-BC, BSN, NE-BC, director of professional practice at THHBP, the study was first conducted in six Baylor facilities in 2012, then as a multi-center study in 2015.

Both studies showed similar results. Jeweled rings had a high likelihood of carrying harmful bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a superbug responsible for difficult-to-treat infections.

Dr. Houston presented their initial findings to the Chief Nursing Officers (CNO) Council in 2013. Despite the results of this study, however, it was difficult to make the policy change that would prohibit health care employees from wearing their jeweled rings to work.

“We were unhappy we couldn’t bring about a practice change, so we started questioning, ‘Is this just happening at Baylor Scott & White Health?’” Dr. Houston said.

The Replication Study of 2015: New Year, Same Results

Shortly after the initial findings, the team of The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano researchers brought the question to neighboring healthcare providers in Texas, including Medical City Dallas Hospital and Texas Health Resources.

These are really bad bugs, and these are on the rings of people who are caring for patients.

“We replicated the study at other hospitals, including other Baylor Scott & White facilities, and guess what?” Samuels said. “The results were the same. What we found was that one in every five rings that were jeweled was contaminated. As a matter of fact, two rings had critical levels of MRSA and VRE. These are really bad bugs, and these are on the rings of people who are caring for patients.”

In the replication study in 2015, researchers took a sample of 193 rings from health care professionals in facilities in Texas and found that 19 percent of them carried bacteria with jeweled rings containing a significantly higher bacterial load than non-jeweled rings.

The dangers of wearing jeweled rings (such as engagement and birthstone rings) in a hospital setting, is that bacteria can be carried from patient to patient, increasing their risk of infection.

Once again, the research team went to several health care councils — from the CNO Council to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Council — all of which agreed that there should eventually be a policy change regarding jeweled rings. However, implementation of new policies can take time.

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk: The Soft Push to Change Policy

So far, the awareness campaign launch has proven successful amongst nursing staff at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano. The research team has made the nursing staff at the hospital aware of the results through a word-of-mouth campaign, encouraging nurse supervisors to speak to their units about the potential risks of wearing jewelry in the hospital.

Samuels reports that most of the nurses in her unit have taken the suggestion to not wear jeweled rings at work seriously, especially when confronted with the data from both studies.

“[The results] validated and reinforced the fact that I shouldn’t wear [my ring] to work,” said Joy Smoot, BSN, RN, PCCN, a nurse supervisor on the medical staff at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano who said she hasn’t worn jewelry on her wrists or fingers in the 13 years she’s been a nurse.

“I think it’s a personal commitment we have to our patients to not expose them to anything that may harm them, and if that means not wearing a ring, it’s not a big deal.”

Samuels hopes that more nurses — as well as physicians and surgeons across Baylor Scott & White Health — will take the findings into consideration long before protocol is established around wearing jewelry in a patient care setting.

“Right now, we are really making individuals, both direct care providers as well as leadership, aware of research findings with the hope of changing policy,” Dr. Houston said. “We’re working on socializing people to the idea of being cognizant of the rings they wear to work and the potential harmful bacteria on their jeweled rings.”

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Engagement rings carry dangerous bacteria, nurse researchers find