Feeds

Dirty PCs fuel hospital super bugs

Control alt infect

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Reducing security risks from open source software

Scientists in the US have linked the spread of the hospital super bug MRSA to a sharp increase in the use of technology in hospitals.

Researchers working in hospitals have found that the deadly bacteria clings to the keys of the computer keyboards used to update patient records and therefore can re-infect the hands of staff even after they had washed their hands.

There were 55 deaths from MRSA in UK hospitals in 1993, but fatalities have increased every year since and by 2003 were running at nearly a 1,000 annually, according to the National Office of Statistics.

The US findings, which were presented to the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America earlier this month, found that just touching a keyboard is enough to pick up the bacteria and pass it onto a patient.

The researchers also found that cleaning IT equipment with soap and water was not enough to remove the bacteria.

The only way to clear the infection from the keyboards, according to Dr Gary Norskin from the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago who carried out the study, was to rinse the keyboard with disinfectant.

"A computer keyboard is like any other surface in a hospital and has to be sterilised," said Norskin, Northwestern Hospital's director of healthcare.

The Chicago study is part of a new trend in the US which is now taking a long hard look at how the introduction of computer equipment into hospitals can often represent a health risk.

Computers quickly become magnets for airborne dust and bacteria-harbouring dirt, which builds up on their internal cooling fans.

The fans represent a further health hazard because of their potential to blow that same dust around a ward.

"Anything that can put bacteria into the air is a risk," said Norskin. "If you bang into a computer and disturb that dust you can effectively create a dust cloud."

Doctors at the Oklahoma Heart Hospital have already started to address the problem.

"We have computers everywhere because our goal it to have a paperless hospital and to have computers everywhere a patient goes,” said Jeff Jones, Oklahoma Hospital's lead system specialist.

"Computers harbouring bacteria is a very big concern of ours because we have computers only three feet away from patients in our operating rooms and we can't have dirt in places like that," he said, adding that tuberculosis is another potential risk from technology as it is the world's number one airborne disease.

"We did experiment with waterproof keyboards that you can wipe clean but found out that they were generating a lot of keystroke errors that could have been just as dangerous for patients," said Jones.

A spokesman for the UK’s National Health Service confirmed that the department's computer specialists were looking into the concerns and that the agency responsible, NHS Connecting for Health, was conducting a study into the issue at University College London to find the risks.

Dr Paul Grime, the British Medical Association's spokesman on MRSA commented: "If computers and keyboards are going to be next to people's beds then this is something that we have to be aware of because this equipment is no different from any other hard surface in a hospital but the key to this is hand hygiene and staff have to get used to washing their hands before and after touching a patient.”

Such health risks have not gone unnoticed by the computer industry which has moved quickly to respond to the threat created by technology in hospital.

"Very shortly UK hospitals are expected to switch to electronic medical records in line with the national Programme for IT which means there is going to be a computer device in every patient care room," said Ken Nott, of the computer company ClearCube, which supplies clean computer systems without fans. "You can wash your hands but not your PC." ®

Peter Warren is a freelance journalist specialising in technology, undercover investigations and science issues. You can find out more about him at Future Intelligence.

Related stories

UK docs demand live liver transplants
Malaysia to fingerprint all new-born children
US hospital loses patient info
BMA tells doctors: avoid NPfIT's flagship project

Reducing security risks from open source software

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Nadella: Apps must run on ALL WINDOWS – PCs, slabs and mobes
Phone egg, meet desktop chicken - your mother
White? Male? You work in tech? Let us guess ... Twitter? We KNEW it!
Grim diversity numbers dumped alongside Facebook earnings
Microsoft: We're making ONE TRUE WINDOWS to rule us all
Enterprise, Windows still power firm's shaky money-maker
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
ITC: Seagate and LSI can infringe Realtek patents because Realtek isn't in the US
Land of the (get off scot) free, when it's a foreign owner
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.