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Patrick Springer, Published January 04 2014

ND researchers consider best methods for disinfecting electronic tablets

FARGO – Doctors now commonly use electronic tablet devices for patient charts and to have reference materials at their fingertips.

But a new study by North Dakota researchers has found that those iPads and similar devices can transmit germs, including some that are resistant to antibiotics.

Dr. Dubert Guerrero, an infectious disease specialist at Sanford Health, and colleagues at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota, published a study on methods to disinfect iPads to reduce contamination.

The study, published in November in the American Journal of Infection Control, found that using a damp cloth, as recommended by manufacturers, worked well for many germs.

A damp cloth, alcohol wipes and germicidal wipes worked well in controlling methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

But for Clostridium difficile, a bacteria that causes diarrhea, required stronger measures. Only bleach wipes effectively killed Clostridium difficile, Guerrero’s research team determined.

Earlier studies have shown that computers and keyboards, which commonly are found in hospital rooms and clinical offices, can spread germs.

“These raised the concern,” Guerrero said, adding they provided the impetus for his study.

It wasn’t surprising that iPads and other mobile devices, increasingly common in health-care settings, also can spread germs, Guerrero said. Still, it hadn’t been demonstrated before.

“There is the concern of transmitting (germs) via inanimate objects,” he said.

As a result of the findings, Guerrero first of all recommends basic hygiene, including frequent hand washing. He also recommends using nonporous covers for iPads, which can safely be cleaned with wipes containing alcohol or bleach.

As for the screens, he recommends using microfiber cloth wipes as frequently as once daily.

The mobile devices aren’t allowed in isolation rooms, where patients with pathogens including antibiotic-resistant bacteria are being treated.

Another option in health-care settings or schools is the use of disposable electronic tablet covers, which cost a little more than a dollar each when bought in bundles of 10, Guerrero said.

As for consumers at home, the damp cloths manufacturers recommend should be sufficient, Guerrero said.

Similar hygiene steps should be taken with other devices, including cellphones and laptop computers, he said.

“Treat it like a toothbrush,” Guerrero said, referring to cellphones.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522