A new study has shown that the computer keyboards with the most germs on them in a hospital's emergency room (ER) were actually those found in the triage and registration areas.

To cut down on bacteria in these non-treatment areas, the hospital has elected to install washable rubber keyboards.

"Areas without true patient contact, and likely less frequent hand washing, might benefit from using washable silicone rubber or antibacterial keyboards instead of a standard keyboard," said Angela Pugliese, lead author of the study and an emergency department physician at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit where the study was conducted.

Multiple studies have found colonies of bacteria on computer keyboards, which, like door knobs and money, are sites often touched by dirty hands.

Due to the threat of the germs' potential spread to patients, Henry Ford's Information Technology and Infection Control department recommended exchanging traditional keyboards in the ER for washable, silicone rubber models.

The objective of the study was to determine the frequency and type of keyboard contamination before replacing the keyboards.

Seventy-two standard, non-silicone rubber keyboards were swabbed on two different days, six days apart. All keyboard keys, except the function keys, were cultured and analyzed for bacteria.

Of the keyboards in non-treatment areas, nearly 32 percent were contaminated, versus less than nine percent in treatment areas. Ten keyboards, or less than 14 percent of the total, were colonized with as many as nine different bacteria.

Further studies are needed to determine if measures such as more frequent cleaning, or replacing standard keyboards with silicone rubber or antibacterial keyboards, would improve safety in these non-clinical areas, Pugliese said.

She will present the findings June 5 at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine in Phoenix.

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