Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Take your filthy hands off my keyboard!

This is interesting.
It seems there is one common item, found almost everywhere now, that cannot be sanitized. No, I'm not talking "sanitized" as a figure of speech. I mean literally sanitized, made free of disease-causing microbes.

Computer keyboards are havens for some nasty superbugs that can live nestled in among the keys for at least 24 hours, a new study finds.
The study led by epidemologist Dr. Gary Noskin finds that keyboards get easily contaminated by germs.
And that's especially bad news for hospitals. There, these germs can take the form of antibiotic-resistant germs that can contaminate the hands of nurses or doctors and then are passed on to patients.
Noskin carried out his study at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He says hospitals are increasing their investment in technology, and there's an emerging trend to have electronic health records for patients.
He adds that some hospitals are putting computers in patient rooms.
Because of the delicate electronic circuitry they house, keyboards, Blackberries, and similar devices make them a challenge to clean.
"The difficulty with keyboards is you can't pour bleach on them," Dr. Allison McGeer, an infection control specialist from Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, tells The Canadian Press. "They don't work so well when you do that.''
She noted another Toronto-area hospital had to throw out their keyboards when it was battling an outbreak of vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus, or VRE.
"We could not get the keyboards clean," McGeer says.

Best defence

Given the challenge in cleaning keyboards, Noskin advises that frequent handwashing is the best defence.
For health care workers, he noted that hand washing before using a computer is "superfluous," as "contamination can be transmitted from the keyboard to the hands of health-care workers.
So the best intervention would be to wash your hands (after using a computer) before you have direct contact with a patient,'' he tells The Canadian Press from Los Angeles, where he's presenting his findings at the annual meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.
For the study, Noskin's team contaminated some keyboards with three types of bacteria commonly found in hospitals: VRE; methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA); and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
Both VRE and MRSA survived on a keyboard 24 hours after contamination, according to the study.
VRE can cause urinary tract infections and infections at the entry sites of intravenous or dialysis lines.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa, meanwhile, can cause pneumonia, urinary tract and bloodstream infections. The study found that this bacteria can last up to an hour on keyboard surfaces.
Noskin says that cleaning the keyboards with soap and water proved ineffective. A hospital-grade germicide did do the job, but regular use of these solutions could take a toll on the devices.
"One of the things we don't know is how using such a strong disinfectant would impact either the plastic or the keyboard circuitry or the electronics," he says.
"These things aren't really designed to be cleaned with a germicide on a regular basis."
You likely won't contract germs like VRE and MRSA by sharing keyboards at work or at home because these bugs generally don't exists outside of hospital settings.
But Noskin suggests frequent handwashing for everybody, since other bugs can persist on any keyboard.

"Keyboards will never be completely sterile," Noskin advises. "There are always going to be bugs there."

Not a threat outside of hospitals, they say.
Boy, that's a relief.
Unless you work in a hospital.
* * * *
Updates (before the sun went down, already! Why are blogs better than newspapers?)
Via Boing Boing...

Update: Nym sez, " there are washable keyboards out there, like the "foldable keyboard". They have no places for dirt and germs to hide, and can literally be put in the sink and washed with soap and water without worry. For the past two years, my camp ROAMnet has been using these keyboards at Burning Man with our public terminals. They're sealed so no dust can get in them and when we get home, they're easy to clean. They're not the nicest keyboards for extended use, but they're cheap and good for public situations." (we've blogged this)
Update 2: A reader directs us to "a virtual keyboard that can be projected on any surface." (we've blogged this, too)
Update 3: Mikey sez, "My girlfriend is a medical student and when they use the computers in the pathology department they wear rubber gloves, treating the computer the same as the pieces of human they are cutting up."

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