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U.K. hospital to use 'clean' keyboard to help ward off germs

New keyboard is equipped with a timer that lets users know when it needs to be cleaned.

Researchers at a London teaching hospital have come up with a "clean" keyboard that could help in the fight against hospital bugs, including the one responsible for the deaths of hundreds of patients.

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is ready to begin installing the new keyboard on hospital wards. It is completely flat and easy to clean, and UCLH believes it can cut the infections spread by dirty keyboards. According to UCLH, research suggests the keyboard could cut cases of the killer MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) bug by up to 10 percent.

The keyboards are much smoother than conventional ones, and are equipped with timing devices to warn nursing staff when they need cleaning. Medical staff spread infections by moving between keyboards without cleaning their hands. To fight bugs, the keyboards need to be cleaned properly using alcohol wipes. Microbiologists at UCLH found that keyboards need to be cleaned at least every 12 hours if they are to remain clean enough for use in a hospital. The bacterial levels on the new keyboards fall by 70 percent if they are cleaned every 12 hours, UCHL said.

The research also showed that .

The keyboard was developed by UCLH consultant microbiologist Dr. Peter Wilson and clinical scientist Dr. Paul Ostro "who dreamt up the idea to coincide with the increasing computerization of the NHS."

"Doctors and nurses were going from patient to the keyboard without washing their hands," said Wilson. "That's quite understandable because you would wash your hands between patients, but not between a patient and a keyboard. As we are going to be increasingly using computers, we thought we would have to come up with a model that was very easy to clean to try to break the cycle of infection."

UCLH's own research points to the benefits of the new keyboard. According to Wilson, "Compliance with twice-daily cleaning went up from 10 to 20 percent with the keyboard covers, to 87 percent with the new model."

The UCLH hospital board approved the purchase of 2,000 of the new keyboards in October. The keyboard was developed by Esterline Advanced Input Systems, based in Coeur d?Alene, Idaho, for the NHS Foundation Trust.

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London.