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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 November 2006, 00:06 GMT
Flat keyboard 'could reduce MRSA'
By Adam Brimelow
BBC News, health correspondent

MRSA (Science Photo Library)
People in hospitals are susceptible to MRSA infection
A hospital has developed a computer keyboard which it says could cut cases of the MRSA superbug by 10%.

Research shows as many as 25% of keyboards carry MRSA - one of a number of hospital-acquired infections which kill 5,000 people each year in the UK.

Plastic keyboard covers are often used but these can be hard to clean.

The University College London Hospitals NHS Trust keyboard is flat and so easy to clean - and is coated in silicone to help ward off bacteria.

The trust is starting to install them and if they prove successful the rest of the NHS may follow.

What we have to do is try and interrupt the transmission of MRSA, which is mainly by touch
Mark Enright, MRSA expert

The keyboard is just one of a number of ideas NHS officials have been considering, including silver-coated catheters and a system of cleaning wards using hydrogen peroxide vapour.

Trusts have been told to halve MRSA rates by 2008. The overall figures are falling but some hospitals are struggling to make progress.

Duncan Burton, the modern matron in charge of infection control at UCL, said: "They're flat, they're very easy to clean with alcohol wipes, it makes it much quicker for nurses to clean them and nurses are responsible for cleaning keyboards in the clinical areas.

"So it's much more efficient to have a flat keyboard which is easy to clean and also has an automatic reminder light to remind staff to clean them."

Researchers at the trust say cleaning the keyboards just twice a day cuts bacteria by 70%.

Dr Peter Wilson, the consultant microbiologist who came up with the idea for the keyboards, said: "The numbers of keyboards are going to rise astronomically in the next few years.

"We're going for electronic patient records. That means that everything that used to be on the chart at the end of the bed will be now put into the keyboard.

"And so there is a risk that if transmission is occurring between patients via keyboards, this is going to be doubled, trebled, quadrupled in the near future."

Mark Enright, a leading researcher on superbugs from Imperial College London, said the best solution was to identify and isolate infected patients but that high bed-occupancy rates in the NHS made that difficult.

He believes the new keyboards could help.

"What we have to do is try to interrupt the transmission of MRSA, which is mainly by touch.

"Things like keyboards that are being rolled out into the NHS - if we can stop transmission of MRSA and other organisms from keyboard touching that would help. It's obviously going to be a positive step."

The computer keyboards used to fight MRSA

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