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Investigating microbial transfer on desktop keyboard

Abstract

Computers have been known to play a role in the spread of nosocomial infections, whether they are used in medical or non medical facilities, as they are known to harbour microorganisms. Microorganisms in the home, offices and in health facilities are deactivated using surface cleaners and disinfectants. An investigation is carried out to study the transfer of microorganisms such as Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter and Enterococcus on computer keyboards, and the efficacy of disinfectants against them. Computers in high traffic areas in a university were sampled, and the appropriate swabbing procedures were carried out. A selective medium was used to inoculate the samples for 47 hours at 370C after which they were examined for the growth of microorganisms, The Students T- test procedure was used to analyze the data, and the findings were compared against available literature.

Introduction

            Microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, plankton, and some algae, which are single celled organisms, only visible under a microscope. Some of these microorganisms are beneficial to plants and animals, but others can cause harm and diseases. Beneficial microorganisms include those responsible for breaking down organic materials, eliminating toxins and aiding in the digestive function in both man and animals. The harmful microorganisms produce toxins which harm and damage the host’s body cells and also cause disease in the host (Dodrill et al., 2011).  Contact with microorganisms is unavoidable, and disinfecting public environments, such as in the university, may not significantly reduce the risk infection due to microorganism contamination. Fomites are objects or materials that can carry and transfer infectious microorganisms from one person to another. In the medical environment, common fomites include skin cells, hair, clothing and bedding materials (World Health Organization, 2001). In offices and educational environments, fomites include keyboards, telephones, touch screens, door handles and water taps, among others. Such surfaces act as reservoirs and transmitters of disease (Gillespie et. al., 2012). This study is carried out to investigate the presence of microorganisms in university keyboards, and to test the efficacy of antimicrobial agents against these microbes.

Literature Review

            The use of cash dispensers and computer keyboards contaminated by microorganisms has been linked to the spread of disease in many institutions (Mirlei et al., 2013; Ashgar and El-Said, 2012). Thorough disinfection of shared surfaces has been shown to be effective against cross- contamination in both the private and public settings (Rutala et al., 2006; Biddle, 2009). The use of disinfectants is beneficial in cleaning surfaces as it removes and deactivates the microorganisms. The effectiveness of disinfectants against microorganisms has already been studied and work by Decker and Slawson (2012) shows that nosocomial pathogens, if not disinfected, could remain on surfaces and act as a source of contamination.

            The type of surface has been found to play a role in cross-contamination of microorganisms, with non- porous surfaces transferring more microbes than porous surfaces do. Research is being carried out to develop hydrophobic liquid infused polymers that have potential to inhibit biofilm formation, though their effectiveness against all bacteria is yet to be improved (Li et al., 2013). Computer keyboards are possible sources of cross- contamination as they are dry objects which are shared among many people and can act as reservoirs for bacteria. Previous work has documented the ability of computers to act as fomites in the hospital environment, and their role in harbouring microorganisms is well known (Anderson & Palombo, 2009). Computers are extensively used in the universities, where they have developed on campus multiple user computers to accommodate the demand. This has increased the availability of multiple- user computers in universities, and they are handled by a large number of people on a daily basis. As these computers are not disinfected on a routine basis, they present a great potential for acting as reservoirs for potentially pathogenic bacteria, and transmitting them among the computer users.

            In order to create strategies for effective disease prevention, it is important that potential microbial reservoirs, such as computer keyboards, which are known to harbour Staphylococcus aureus and are a course of cross infection (Sharpe and Schmidt, 2011), are identified.  Previous studies found that about 8%- 42% of keyboards in American Universities were contaminated by MRSA (Boa and Rahube, 2013), which is a potential health hazard if they are not properly disinfected. The efficacy of common keyboard cleaning agents was tested by (Rutala et. al., (2006) who concluded that disinfectants were effective in decontaminating the keyboards. It was recommended that the disinfection is carried out on a daily basis, or on a need- be- basis, such as when they get soiled or contaminated by blood. It was recorded by Malik and Naeem (2014), who were of the opinion that a single user mouse or keyboard had a lower risk of transmitting microorganisms as compared to a multiple user keyboard. Hospital keyboards have been shown to be significant reservoirs of microbes, transmitting MRSA and acting as reservoirs of staphylococcus species in Canada, the US, and the UK. In school and university keyboards, the mean prevalence rate of MRSA was recorded as being 2% by Kramer et al. (2006). Higher rates of MRSA have been recorded in primary schools as compared to secondary schools and universities which Biddle (2009) suggests could be due to an awareness and improved understanding of hygiene in the older children. It is important that computer keyboards and equipment used communally is sampled to identify and prevent disease outbreaks, and to come up with strategies to prevent the spread of infections such as CA- MRSA.

            The new keyboards designs allow for easy cleaning and disinfection, although large amounts of bacteria are still found on sampling. While researching in a Nigerian veterinary situation, Nwankiti et al. (2012) found   Bacillus subtilus (84%) and Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, S.albus, Streptococcus epidermidis, Diptheroids, Trychophyton species, Aspergilus species, and Candida albicans.  A number of the isolates are associated with dust and skin flora and could easily go away on cleaning. Research is mainly focused on identifying and isolating the pathogens found in keyboards (Rutala et al., 2006) while less focus has been directed towards conducting empirical enquiries on the efficacy of antimicrobial agents. It is important that the endurance of bacteria and the efficacy of the antimicrobial products used against them are tested. This study is expected to design effective measures for the disinfection of computer keyboards.

Materials and Methodology

 Methods

Sterile, peptone moistened swabs were used to collect samples from the University Microbiology Laboratory, the Perry Library, Learning Resource Centre, Lecture Rooms, and one personal keyboard.

Culture Media Preparation

            In order to isolate, identify and characterize the samples, growth media including Nutrient agar, Malt agar and Peptone water. Instructions on preparing and weighing the samples were followed, and they were measured and placed in the autoclave to sterilize them. They were later stored in the appropriate place.

Inoculation

A sterile pipette and sterile pipette tips were used to carry out the serial dilutions and to draw out 1ml of the sample solution which was swirl- mixed. Before serial dilutions, each of the bottles contained 9mls of sterile peptone water. The bottles labelled ranged from 10-1 – 10-6 after carrying out serial dilutions. The most concentrated was the 10-1 since it contained samples collected from the keyboard surfaces which were cut and dipped in it.

Spread plating

Quantification of Bacteria:A 100uL pipette was used to transfer 0.1 ml sample solution taken from each serial dilution by clean pipette tips. After collecting six Petri dishes, the solution was streaked in a solid nutrient agar plate ranging between 10⁻1- 10⁻6 by using a sterile pipette. The samples were incubated for 48 hours at 37oC which was dependent on the type of growth in each Petri dish. No control sample was used since the isolation medium was sterilized previously. In each plate, the Colony Forming Units were estimated using the Gallenkomp Model counter. 10-1 – 10-3 serial dilutions were later done since the 10-4 – 10-6 count was too little to count.

Isolation of Organisms: Nutrient agar plates were used to sub culture the pure isolated colonies for 12 hours at 37oC to further isolate and identify the morphology.

Identification of Organisms: Standard procedures were used to perform gram staining and the organisms were observed under a x40 light microscope. Gram positive colonies were seen, which were later identified as Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilus and some yeast. 

Efficacy of disinfectant on known bacteria method

Samples were collected from the MBL, and the personal and lecture room keyboards after which they were swabbed at different days and times and later wiped down with Dettol and Disifin disinfectants. These disinfectants were left to dry and become absorbed for 10 minutes. In order to carry out serial dilutions, the swabs were well prepared. Serial dilutions ranged between 10-1 – 10-3 since 10-4 – 10-6 were too few to count from previous dilutions

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