Healthcare News & Insights

Where bacteria hide in ICU workstations

Germs could be lurking anywhere in your hospital – particularly in areas where highly infectious critical illnesses are treated, such as the ICU. And even after standard cleaning procedures are complete, there may still be some leftover bacteria in surprising places. 

ThinkstockPhotos-87301602A study in the American Journal of Infection Control attempted to see whether areas in the ICU that weren’t used for patient treatment would contain germs that cause hospital-acquired infections.

Outside of the patient treatment area, bacteria are primarily spread when clinical staff members touch items or surfaces with unwashed or gloved hands.

Researchers identified multiple “high-touch objects” throughout the ICU staff workstation and tested them to see if they were contaminated with highly infectious microbes.

What they found may make you rethink your hospital’s cleaning routines.

After swabbing items such as the chair, keyboard and mouse at the clinical station, researchers found the presence of deadly bacteria, including MRSA and VRE.

High-touch items in patient treatment rooms, which are typically cleaned more thoroughly, were also tested for comparison. The only ones that had significant bacterial contamination were things that either couldn’t be disinfected correctly (patient folders) or are often neglected as part of standard cleaning procedures (patient bed railings).

How to fight germs

Making sure clinical staff members are closely following hand-hygiene protocols is one of the best ways to keep germs from contaminating hard-to-clean areas such as computer keyboards and file folders.

Even if clinicians and nurses are vigilant about hand hygiene, cross contamination can still occur, with bacteria from patients’ rooms ending up in other areas of the hospital. That’s why it’s important to ensure that all areas of the hospital are vigorously cleaned, and certain items that staff often touch with their hands should be disinfected regularly.

Computer equipment may be tricky to clean because many cleaning products can cause electrical damage. But it’s not impossible. There are specific disinfectant products available especially for computer equipment, including electronic wipes. Staff can also use a small amount of a low-grade hospital disinfectant on a microfiber cloth to clean a keyboard and mouse.

Another option: Keyboard covers, which protect keyboards from germs and can be washed and disinfected separately.

Chairs can be wiped down with microfiber cloths moistened with disinfectant or antibacterial wipes. And staff should exercise caution when handling other items that can’t be cleaned, such as file folders.

Bottom line: It’s crucial to emphasize the importance of regular disinfection of the clinical workstation to staff, along with following hand-hygiene procedures to prevent contamination.

Not only does the presence of bacteria endanger patients, it could also cause your staff to fall ill. That may result in lower productivity and staff shortages – and could even affect the quality of patient care.

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