Bacterial pathogens in ambulances: Results of unannounced sample collection

Donald W. Alves, Richard A. Bissell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


The concern that the health care environment may harbor a substantial reservoir of infectious agents has been vigorously examined by microbiology and infectious disease experts. Although universal precautions and disposable equipment reduces risks to patients and providers, the ambulance remains vulnerable to bacterial contamination from biological secretions. Additionally, the nature of emergency medical services creates pressures on prehospital care providers. Objective. We hypothesized that a discrepancy exists between the expectation of disinfection of reusable equipment in emergency medical services (EMS) and the cleaning that actually occurs. Methods. We chose five areas within the ambulance for specimen collection for their reasoned propensity to yield a large spectrum of bacteria. Four first-due ambulances were selected for culturing. The crews did not have advance knowledge of the study or sample collection. Specific identifications with antibiotic susceptibility were completed, identifying three multidrug resistant organisms. Results. Specimens from all four ambulances grew moderate-to-large quantities of environmental and skin flora. Newer, automated microbiological techniques and concerns regarding multiple-drug-resistant organism prevalence as well as the potential for biological warfare make complete identification more important. Conclusions. This study examined the bacterial pathogens found in EMS vehicles. Four of the seven species isolated were substantial nosocomial pathogens, and three of these four possess formidable antibiotic resistance patterns. All of the organisms detected are susceptible to the disinfectant agents currently in common use by EMS agencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-224
Number of pages7
JournalPrehospital Emergency Care
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Contamination
  • EMS
  • Infections
  • Nosocomial
  • Pathogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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