Your Health


Now if you're checking your e-mail this morning, please, back away from the keyboard for a moment. It is not always easy to find the source of an infection, but one epidemiologist says he found a culprit right at his fingertips, as NPR's Joanne Silberner reports.


Bill Rutala's job is to battle bacteria at hospitals and clinics in the University of North Carolina healthcare system. A few years ago, his focus landed on computer keyboards.

His are in the hospital, but what he found applies to keyboards everywhere if they're shared.

Rutala knew they could carry bacteria, mostly harmless, but a few that could cause problems. There was something he and his colleagues didn't know.

Dr. BILL RUTALA (Bacteriologist, University of North Carolina Healthcare System): We did not know whether the use of a disinfectant would alter the keyboard or the functionality of the computer.

SILBERNER: So they tried putting bacteria on the keyboards and wiping them down with a variety of commercial disinfectants, as well as sterile water.

Dr. RUTALA: We determined that all of the disinfectants that we used were effective in removing the microorganisms that we intentionally contaminated the computer keys with.

SILBERNER: Even the sterile water did. And one class of disinfectants that includes Sani-Cloth Plus, Cavi-Wipes, and Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, kept bacteria from re-growing for two days or more.

None of the compounds harmed the keyboards, and the computers remained functional. This is one of those things you can try at home, he says.

Dr. RUTALA: It might be a good idea for anyone who shares a computer with other people to clean the keyboard with a disinfectant wipe before use by a different person.

SILBERNER: Just don't think you'll be completely protected.

Dr. RUTALA: Everything in our environment is contaminated with microorganisms: our countertops, our tabletops, our worktops, our pens, our phones, our eyeglasses, our clothes, our carpets, our chairs. Everything is contaminated with microorganisms unless we do something, such as a sterilization process, to essentially inactivate the contaminating microorganisms.

SILBERNER: Or you could something Rutala does a lot of himself: frequent hand washing.

Joanne Silberner, NPR News.

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INSKEEP: And that's the health report on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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