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What's Lurking on Your Computer?

Bacteria Can Quietly Thrive on Computer Keyboards
WebMD Health News

April 11, 2005 -- It's enough to make you want to scrub your hands and hose down your computer.

While you type, your fingers could be grazing over potentially harmful bacteria. That news comes from Gary Noskin, MD, and colleagues at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

They were curious to see if bacteria found a friendly home on computer keyboards and if those bacteria could then hop onto someone's hand, given the chance.

All three of the germs they tested survived at least an hour on the keyboards. Two lasted for a day and grew during that time.

Bad Bugs

The bacteria tested were vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA),methicillin-resistant and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PSAE).

All three bacteria are widespread in nature. In a worst-case scenario, they can be life-threatening, but they rarely bother healthy people, says a news release from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

VRE and PSAE usually only trouble hospitalized patients whose immune systems are compromised, says the news release. VRE can cause complicated abdominal infections, as well as infecting the skin, bloodstream, and urinary tract. PSAE frequently prompts pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and bloodstream infections.

MRSA, a staph infection, can cause skin rash, boils, blisters, toxic shock syndrome, and other types of infection. Unlike VRE and PSAE, it's more likely to spread outside hospitals,spread outside hospitals, usually through an open wound or other skin infection. Infections of antibiotic-resistant staph -- also called "superbugs" -- have recently popped up in otherwise healthy people, says the release.

In the study, clean computer keyboards and keyboard covers were contaminated with the three bacteria.

MRSA and PSAE lived and grew there for 24 hours. VRE was a little less hardy. It only lasted for an hour on the keyboards and no more than five minutes on keyboard covers.

The researchers found people to touch the computer keyboards and covers. The volunteers' gloved or ungloved hands often picked up the bacteria.

"After any contact with computer keyboards, both gloved and ungloved hands frequently became contaminated," the researchers told a meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology.

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