Summary: Washable Keyboard Helps Hospitals Tackle Cross Contamination
Prevalence of HAIs
Clostridium difficile (c. diff) and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are two of the more common healthcare acquired infections (HAIs) that create problems in hospitals nationwide.
Prevention of HAIs remains one of the top priorities in all hospitals, regardless of why a patient is admitted. Preventing infections is more cost effective than treating infections, but more importantly, safer for patients than fighting an infection acquired as a result of their hospital stay.
Outside of hand washing, one of the simplest and most important ways to reduce the transmission of such bacteria is surface disinfection, including floors, ceilings, table tops, bed rails, and any other surface in a hospital room. While many surfaces are intuitively included in any cleaning, some very important ones are often overlooked, including computer keyboards.
Electronic health records have made stationary computers of frequent use in hospital rooms and clinics, with healthcare workers using the keyboard in each room, between each patient. With this kind of usage, it’s no wonder that research confirms that regular keyboard disinfection is crucial in keeping harmful bugs in check. It can be difficult to find keyboards that can withstand the necessary disinfectants, however.
Findings of Bacteria on Hospital Keyboards
A study from the University of North Carolina’s healthcare system led by Dr. William Rutala, PhD, demonstrated just how filthy a keyboard can be. Sampling residue from 25 keyboards in seven different units within the hospital, the researchers found that each keyboard was contaminated with at least two pathogens. In all, the keyboards tested positive for 14 different kinds of bacteria, including some antibiotic-resistant strains of Staph. Disinfecting these same keyboards with a variety of different cleaning agents killed 95% of all pathogens. In fact, disinfection was not only able to kill present germs, but also prevented new bacterial growth. The disinfectants used contained varying levels of chorine, alcohol, or phenol, and half of them contained ammonium as well1.
Similarly, a study led by Gabrielle Messina at the University of Siena in Italy, investigated the levels of pathogens found on not only keyboards, but stethoscopes and telephone handsets as well2. Not surprisingly, the handsets and keyboards hosted significantly more bacteria than the stethoscopes. Disinfecting these surfaces wiped out almost all of the harmful pathogens, which prior to disinfection included different strains of Staph and coliforms bacteria. Messina suggests, based on their findings, that disinfection of commonly used tech devices are critical in the reduction of HAIs, and often overlooked despite the fact that many health care providers regularly decontaminate their personal mobile devices2. Rutala’s team said in their published findings, “Keyboard[s] should be disinfected daily or when visibly soiled or if they become contaminated with blood… mobile computers used by patients should be disinfected between patient uses… Our data demonstrate that keyboards can be safely and successfully decontaminated with disinfectants.1”
Responding to the increasing need for HAI reduction and containment, some healthcare systems are switching to submersible keyboards that can hold up to high quantities of hospital grade cleaning solutions, like the keyboards and other computer accessories manufactured by Seal Shield. Seal Shield’s computer components are advertised as fully functional even after being submerged in a fish tank. Hospitals that have adopted Seal Shield’s technology include Orlando Health and UF Health Shands Hospital in Florida. These facilities purchased the submersible keyboards in response to problematic HAIs, and adopted new disinfection protocols around these durable computer components. Such protocols include submerging the keyboards in a 10:1 bleach and water salutation when necessary, and spraying the equipment down in between uses, with strong cleaning agents that contain alcohol, and/or bleach3.
Consider the state of your healthcare facility, are infections being prevented? Speak with a disinfection specialist free of charge and discuss possible solutions for decontamination.
About the Author
Dana Carter, PhD is an academically trained, experimental neuroscientist. Currently, Dana is a science writer who focuses on different aspects of psychology, physiology, and overall health and wellness. Prior to her current role, she spent a combined seven years researching the genetic components of mental illnesses, and the effects of drugs and alcohol on fetal brain development. She received her PhD in Neuroscience from the Texas A&M Institute for Neuroscience and her B.Sc. in Psychology from Texas A&M University. She enjoys traveling, writing, and promoting learning about healthy, active minds and lifestyles.
1. Rutala, WA, White MS, Gergen MF, Weber D. Bacterial contamination of keyboards: efficacy and functional impact of disinfectants (2006). Infect Cntrl Hosp Epidemiol, 27(4): 372-327.
2. Messina G, Ceriale E, Lenzi D, Burgassi S, Azzonlini E, and MAnzi P. Environmental contaminants in hospital settings and progress in disinfecting techniques (2013). BioMed Research International, 2013.
3. Lillis, K. Washable keyboards helps hospitals tackle cross contamination (2014). Infection Control Today: Medical White Papers. http://www.infectioncontroltoday.com/~/media/Files/Medical/Whitepapers/2014/05/washable-keyboards.ashx.