Pass the sanitizer: Bacteria common on radiology workstations

Are toilet seats cleaner than the workstations radiologists use every day? They may be, if results from a pilot study published online in the Journal of the American College of Radiology are any indication. Fortunately, this unappealing problem can be easily solved.

A research team led by Dr. Richard Duszak Jr., from Mid-South Imaging and Therapeutics in Memphis, TN, sampled dictation microphones and computer mice at radiologist workstations at two teaching hospitals and found a significantly higher bacterial contamination than on nearby toilet seats and doorknobs. On the bright side, simple and inexpensive disinfecting techniques were determined to be effective solutions.

"Given the potential for microbial transmission to both patients and staff members, radiologists are encouraged to implement hand hygiene practices and regularly use simple workstation disinfection techniques," the authors wrote.

While attention has focused on computer keyboards and telephones as bacterial contamination sites in a number of healthcare settings, radiologists' computer workstations may have the potential for similar microbial exposure. To quantify and characterize bacterial contamination levels, the researchers sampled the most frequently used radiologist workstations from two inpatient and two outpatient reading rooms at two teaching hospitals in two states (JACR, July 1, 2013).

For comparison purposes, they also sampled toilet seats and doorknobs in the four restrooms closest to each reading room.

The researchers found bacterial infection on every sampled computer workstation and mouse, as well as on the toilet seats and restroom doorknobs.

Bacterial contamination levels
Sample site Mean total bacterial colony count
Workstation microphone (7 sampled sites) 69.4 ± 38.7
Workstation mouse (7 sampled sites) 46.1 ± 58.1
Restroom toilet seat (4 sampled sites) 10.5 ± 9.7
Restroom doorknob (4 sampled sites) 14.8 ± 16.0

Of the workstation sites, nine (64.3%) of 14 had colonies of Staphylococcus aureus, while three (21.4%) of 14 grew enteric organisms. Overall microphone and mouse bacterial infection (57.8 ± 49.0 colonies) was found to be significantly higher than infection of the toilets and doorknobs (12.6 ± 12.5 colonies, p = 0.005).

However, microphone and mouse bacterial counts were nearly completely eliminated after just a brief antiseptic swabbing with a Chlorascrub pad (Professional Disposables International). For the four microphones and mice sampled both before and after swabbing, counts dropped from 76.9 ± 53.2 to just 0.3 ± 0.7.

"Given overwhelming evidence of computer bacterial contamination in other hospital settings, and now our observation that the same likely holds true for radiologists' workstations, we believe that many workspace hygiene opportunities exist in radiology departments," the authors wrote.

Practicing radiologists should focus on hand hygiene and workstation disinfection, the authors recommended.

"Basic hand-washing before each workstation use should reduce transfer of microbes from radiologists to workstations," the authors wrote. "Because sinks are not present in most reading rooms, hand sanitizer dispensers may represent a more practical solution."

The authors noted that their simple and inexpensive disinfection technique eradicated nearly 100% of demonstrable bacteria colonies in the pilot study.

"Such techniques should be considered at every workstation session logon," they concluded. "We chose to use supplies most convenient for us, but we believe that there are likely many other methods that might be equally (if not more) effective."

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