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Friday, 25 May, 2001, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Computer fungus risk to patients
Computer screen
Infection control should include regular computer cleaning
Critically ill patients in hospital intensive care units could be at risk from computers spewing infectious fungal spores.

American researchers found a rare hospital fungus "Aspergillus fumigatus" in their intensive care wards following the installation of computers.

Dr Gregory Forstall, of the McLaren Regional Medical Centre, in Michigan, said his research highlighted the need for careful cleaning of computers.

He told the American Society for Microbiology that when researchers analysed cultures from dust on the central processing units and other parts of the equipment, they spotted another five types of fungus which can cause illness.


There is a risk of contamination of computer units and measures probably need to be taken to maintain their cleanliness

Dr Gregory Forstall

Contamination

Dr Forstall said the fungal contaminations were first discovered when the computers were introduced into his hospital's 23-bed Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

"Computers were recently installed into patient rooms to streamline procedures for physicians and nursing staff.

Intensive care ward
Scientists found the fungus in the intensive care units

"We saw that the computers had a vent with a cooling fan, and there was almost an exhaust coming from the fan, so when we took samples from the grid and from the room, we found that there was a growth of several types of yeast and some filamentous mould.

"There is a risk of contamination of computer units and measures probably need to be taken to maintain their cleanliness, especially around the grid that protects the cooling fan," he said.

Breed cultures

Dr Alexander Binning, a consultant anaesthetist in ICU at the Western Infirmary, in Glasgow, said UK hospitals would also need to ensure their computers were clean.

He said he had been unaware of the potential of computers to store and breed cultures but added that inspections would now be carried out.

"It could potentially be a problem.

"I think it is one of the many potential problems in hospitals and is another aspect that we will be looking at.

"We have infection control teams that swab regularly here in the unit."

Dr Binning said that due to financial constraints in the NHS there were fewer hospital computers on intensive care wards compared to the US, where each intensive care ward bed can have a PC and monitor.

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