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Can you handle the truth about infection control with computer monitors?

by Luke Molnar

Computer monitors can be found in almost every direction you look within a hospital. Unfortunately, little thought goes into the implications of using a consumer-grade display in areas where infection control is critical. The following infection-control related facts are a testament to why hospitals should consider using a purpose-designed display in these crucial environments.

There are about 10 million bacteria on a typical computer monitor

The average computer monitor is not designed with infection control in mind. Computer monitors are often underestimated as possible sources of Healthcare-Associated Infection or HAI. The average computer monitor plays hosts to around 10 million bacteria at any given time. To put that into perspective, it is around 400 times more germs than the average toilet seat!

The optimal concentration of alcohol in disinfectants is 70%

Any equipment or surface that has the potential to harbor bacteria and cause cross-contamination should be designed to allow a 70% ethanol solution without damaging the material. The average computer monitor without a protective front glass can be stained almost immediately by a highly concentrated disinfectant.

Liquids should remain on surfaces for up to 2 minutes for complete disinfection

Simply wiping surfaces such as a computer monitor is not sufficient to provide a complete disinfection. Disinfectants should remain on the surface for as long as 2 minutes to ensure all of the bacteria are killed. Most computer monitors do not offer a sealed design so applying liquid for extended periods of time can damage them.

There are about 1.7 million cases of HAI per year

Each year an estimated 1.7 million HAI infections occur, this leads to around 100,000 deaths annually[1]. By exercising stricter infection control practices and installing purpose-designed equipment to reduce the number of HAI infections we have a better chance at reducing this statistic.

HAI treatment costs are estimated to be $36 million annually

It is projected that for an average-sized 420 bed hospital, treatment costs for HAI infections are $36 million annually[2]. It follows that investing in strategies and equipment that help prevent infections is a worthwhile endeavour. Not just for the patient’s sake but for the reduction in the financial burden of treating these infections.

Some “infection control” monitors offer an IP-rating on the front panel only

Some monitors that claim to be designed for infection control only offer a waterproof design on the front panel. The back of the monitor still has gaps and connector openings allowing liquid to enter and form an electrical shock risk. It is important that hospitals investigate the specifications of these monitors and only consider ones that provide a complete IP-rating from every angle.

Cooling fans can exacerbate the risk of HAI

Tests have shown that devices with an air ventilated cooling system can blow dust particles and micro-organisms that have accumulated in the device out into the environment. This poses an extremely high risk of infection as the bacteria becomes airborne and can travel greater distances with ease. Fans and vents should be avoided where infection control is critical. A device truly designed with infection control in mind will provide other means for heat dissipation.

HAI can be as common as 1 in 3 in intensive care units in high-income countries

Infections from healthcare are not limited to developing nations. In high-income countries, 30% of patients in ICUs will be affected by at least one case of HAI. The longer patients remain in the ICU the more likely they are to acquire an infection.

What about other peripherals such as keyboards and mice?

Monitors are only one of many computer peripherals that are breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria. Research conducted by the University of North Carolina discovered that 25% of hospital keyboards harbour the “super bug” MRSA. Disinfecting keyboards daily could reduce the risk of cross contamination. Keyboards and mice designed for infection control are imperative as performing a comprehensive disinfection on consumer-grade products can take hours and may even result in irreparable damage.

[1] 2010 National Healthcare Quality Report (NHQR) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality AHRQ Publication No. 11-0004 March 20112

[2] Calculation of $36 million annually is based on 420 bed hospital; 40 patient stays per bed; 5% infection rate; cost of infection @ $43,000 (source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality August 2010)