A recent data report, Cross-Contamination Prevention: Addressing Keyboards as Fomites, released by Infection Control Today, discusses the topic of cross-contamination prevention focusing specifically on keyboards as fomites. A fomite is an object that has the potential to become contaminated with any type of germ or bacteria. Fomites are key players in the transfer of pathogens from person to person. These objects are responsible for the billions of dollars spent treating hospital-acquired infections and paying for sick leaves taken by health care workers. In order to lessen these numbers, we must understand the source of the infections.
The report discloses results from various studies that have been performed over the past two decades. Researchers have been digging deep to find the root of the problem. A study was done by Alice N. Neely, PhD, and Dean F. Sittig, PhD showed that the most ubiquitous fomite is the keyboard. Since its introduction to clinical settings, computer technology has advanced the capabilities of doctors enabling them to treat and diagnose patients to a higher degree. However, as with anything great, these technologies have their drawbacks as well.
Other research done by Dr. Richard Duszak Jr., MD analyzed the quantity and characteristics of contamination in a radiologist workstation. Microphones and computer mice, tools used most frequently, were tested. It was found that overall microphone and mouse bacterial contamination was significantly higher than that of nearby restroom toilets and doorknobs. Settings like labs, clinics, and hospitals are where doctors, nurses, and researchers are sharing devices and transporting them to patient rooms. Another study discusses fomites in inpatient rooms.
“A microbacterial analysis from samples in patients’ rooms yielded 26 contaminated samples from keyboard and mouse compared with 18 positive results from other fomites within patients’ rooms.”
This means that of all the objects in the room, the most contaminated surface was the keyboard and mouse. Dr. Neely performed a similar study which examined an outbreak of Acinetobacter baumannii in a burn unit. She too reports that the microorganism is more likely to be found on keyboard and computer surfaces than anything else in the room. Once controlled, the colonization rates went to their normal amount. With patients already in need of care, exposure to these excessive contaminants in their rooms is not feasible.
Because the benefits of these technologies are so great, more effort has to be put into controlling the bacteria on fomites like keyboards. Disinfection of devices needs to become in line with other daily routines to decrease the chances of spreading contagions. It must be noted that disinfection is not limited to health care facilities.
Left unmentioned in the report is that the data can also be applied to other workplaces that use high-touch devices like computers and computer tablets. Recent endeavors in patient engagement have introduced more surfaces that harbor dangerous pathogens. These devices add to the number of surfaces that transfer pathogens from people to people. Thus, the proper procedure needs to be followed in order to keep these devices safe for use.
As with all high-touch surfaces, proper disinfection of equipment and devices is a must, especially in areas housing immunosuppressed patients. Regular disinfection of all high-touch surfaces will help to reduce the risk of transferring germs to a patient, which in turn reduces the risk of a hospital acquired infection. Frequent hand washing will also help to reduce these risks, but hand washing alone is not enough. There are numerous ways to disinfect the various high-touch surfaces in a hospital environment from chemicals to UV light. Regardless of the method that your workplace chooses, be sure to make disinfection a part of your daily routine.
About the Author
David Engelhardt, Founder and President of ReadyDock, though some people call him our “Mobile Device Disinfection Specialist!” He has over 28 years of experience in software and hardware solutions development in healthcare and manufacturing, with a particular focus on mobile technologies. David is passionate and committed to providing safe and workflow-efficient methods to enable clinicians and patients to enhance care through the use of innovative technologies. In the small window of time when he is not working or spending time with his amazing wife and daughter, he can be found playing USTA tennis, collecting vinyl records, and shaping music and sound in his recording studio.
1. Neely AN, and Sittig DF. Basic Microbiologic and Infection Control Information to Reduce the Potential Transmission of Pathogens to Patients via Computer Hardware. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2002 Sep-Oct; 9(5):500-508.
2. Duszak R Jr, Lanier B, Tubbs JA, Ogilvie M, Thompson-Jaeger S. Bacterial contamination of radiologist workstations: results of a pilot study. J Am Coll Radiol. 2014 Feb;11(2):176-9.