New process aims for germ free computer keyboards

Posted Oct 19, 2016 by Tim Sandle
Some people are aghast at the idea of sharing computers, due to the risk of pathogenic germs being found on keyboards. A new treatment aims to render keyboards 99 percent bacteria free.
Computer keyboard.
Computer keyboard.
R. Jason Brunson, U.S. Navy
The actual risks of germ transmission are fairly low, but risks can arise if one person has questionable hygiene habits (such as not washing their hands after using a washroom). Some bacteria can remain viable on inanimate surfaces for a prolonged period of time.
A report last year, discussed by International Business Times, explained how researchers discovered that computer keyboards contained 7,500 bacteria per swab — much more than an average toilet seat, which has 5,400. What was lacking from this report was any indication that the recovered contamination presented a risk to human health.
Similarly, the consumer group Which?, through their computing editor Sarah Kidner, told the BBC that users should give their computer "a spring clean". The consumer rights advocate said: "It's quite simple to do and could prevent your computer from becoming a health hazard". Recommended practices included shaking dust and food crumbs out of keyboards and wiping them with a soft, lightly dampened, lint-free cloth, followed by disinfection using an alcohol wipe.
The new research focuses on keyboards found in hospitals rather than the busy office. This is because of concerns that a keyboard, shared by a range of hospital workers, could act as a vector for pathogen transmission.
The new process works through the use of ultraviolet lamps (producing UV-C), and these lamps were tested at the Presence Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago, according to Cleanroom Technology magazine. Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation is a disinfection method that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) light to kill or inactivate microorganisms. This is by destroying microbial nucleic acids and disrupting cellular DNA. In practice, germicidal ultraviolet light, used for disinfection, is most often generated by a mercury-vapor lamps.
The study began with an assessment of microorganisms found on keyboards. Here 203 samples were taken and 193 (95 percent) tested positive for bacteria. Typically 120 bacterial colonies were recovered per keyboard. Some of these organisms were classed as pathogens, linked with healthcare-associated infections, such as Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Enterococcus, Pseudomonas, Pasteurella, Klebsiella, Acinetobacter and Enterobacter.
Following the initial assessment, UV Angel automated UV-C lamps were fitted over the same keyboards. After a period of use, the keyboards were tested and 94 percent (205 of 218 samples) were found not to recover any bacteria.
Putting aside the small number of samples taken, the single geographic area, and the reliance upon culture-based methods for microbial assessment, the lamps, developed by UV Angel are worthy of further examination.
The results of the study are published in the American Journal of Infection Control. The research paper is titled “Evaluating the effectiveness of ultraviolet-C lamps for reducing keyboard contamination in the intensive care unit: A longitudinal analysis.”