Fomites are inanimate objects that act as modes of transmission for infectious agents. You know. The doorknob or airplane armrest handled by someone who coughs on his hand or blows her nose. We know that some agents, like influenza viral particles, can remain viable (i.e., retain their ability to replicate in a host cell) for days or weeks. This doesn’t automatically mean that fomites are an important mode of transmission, however. There is evidence those same viral particles lose their ability to replicate after only a few minutes on your hand. The apparent paradox is probably related to the fact that your hand is a biological environment, with many generic defense mechanisms. Door knobs are friendlier.
Still, people worry about fomites and if you are reading this it is more than likely you are using a computer keyboard. If you are the only one who uses the keyboard you may not care, but keyboards often have multiple users. This is especially true in hospitals, where keyboards are used to enter clinical data around the clock — many staff over several shifts. Now an enterprising company has come to the aid of the OCDC hygiene paranoic hospital infection control liability freak with its Mediagenic infection control keyboard. From the manufacturer’s product page (h/t Medgadget):
- Sanitize in Seconds: flat keyboard design quickly wipes clean with hospital-grade disinfectants.
- High-Speed Data Entry: full-size keyboard enables healthcare professionals to touch-type with conventional keyboard-like performance.
- Disinfection without Disconnection: single disable key allows connectivity while keyboard is cleaned.
- Audio and Visual Alerts indicator will flash and alert will sound at user-defined intervals to help monitor and promote good infection-control practices. Cleaning the keyboard turns off the indicators.
- Backlit Keys: keyboard is usable in low-light environments to accommodate data-input accuracy and reduce patient disturbance.
The product page has a helpful link to an article in the journal, Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. From the abstract I learned that the auithors were able to recover culturable bacterial pathogens from study keyboards (the number of keyboards isn’t given and I don’t have access to this specialized journal):
Potential pathogens cultured from more than 50% of the computers included coagulase‐negative staphylococci (100% of keyboards), diphtheroids (80%), Micrococcus species (72%), and Bacillus species (64%). Other pathogens cultured included ORSA (4% of keyboards), OSSA (4%), vancomycin‐susceptible Enterococcus species (12%), and nonfermentative gram‐negative rods (36%). Rutala et al., “Bacterial Contamination of Keyboards: Efficacy and Functional Impact of Disinfectants,” Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol 2006;27:372-377; abstr)
This isn’t exactly news. We blogged about it a couple of years go, after a Swedish computer mag wrote a story that your keyboard was dirtier than your toilet. The authors of this article tested 6 different disinfectants (1 each containing chlorine, alcohol, or phenol and 3 containing quaternary ammonium) on keyboards festooned with 3 test organisms (oxacillin‐resistant Staphylococcus aureus [ORSA], Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and vancomycin‐resistant Enterococcus species). All disinfectants removed 95% of the test organisms without damage to the keyboard, cosmetic or functional, after more than 300 disinfection cycles.
So if that’s the case, why do we need a special keyboard? I suppose the feature that inactivates the keyboard if it isn’t cleaned is some value for compliance, but that feature is available on the more expensive model (the Compliance Keyboard). Rather than buy new keyboards, I would think some high school student could write a quick freeware app for this.
But that would be too simple. And too cheap.