Hospital Keyboards Harbor Bacteria for Up to 24 Hours, Study Finds
Hospital computer keyboards can harbor harmful bacteria for up to 24 hours, highlighting an increased risk of spreading germs as health care facilities increase investment in electronic medical records, according to study released on Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The study was conducted by researchers from Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and findings were presented before the annual scientific session of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America in Los Angeles (Ritter, Chicago Sun-Times, 4/11).
Researchers contaminated keyboards with three types of bacteria normally found in hospitals: vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureaus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Reuters/Boston Globe, 4/12). Results showed that VRE and MRSA survived up to 24 hours on keyboards and PSAE survived for one hour. When volunteers touched the contaminated keys, MRSA spread to hands 92% of the time, VRE spread half of the time and PSAE spread 18% of the time. VRE and PSAE "seldom cause problems" for people whose immune systems are not weakened by illnesses, while cases of MRSA have begun to increase in hospitals, locker rooms, schools and prisons, Scripps Howard/Washington Times reports (Scripps Howard/Washington Times, 4/12).
The results show that keyboards can contaminate the bare or gloved fingers of a nurse or doctor, who could then transfer bacteria to patients (Reuters/Boston Globe, 4/12). Dr. Gary Noskin, medical director of health care epidemiology and quality at NMH, said, "While it's important to disinfect computer equipment on a regular basis, especially in a health care environment, the most important disease-prevention strategy is to wash your hands prior to patient contact" (Chicago Sun-Times, 4/11).