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Doctors' swipe cards pose superbug risk

20 March 2009

Doctors’ swipe cards are a potential source of hospital-acquired infection, according to research published in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

The study, by clinicians at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn, demonstrates that swipe cards, increasingly prevalent in hospitals for security reasons, are a threat to hospital infection management. Previous research has highlighted a number of potential sources for transmission of infection, including pens, hospital pagers and case notes, but this is the first time swipe cards have been investigated.

Researchers chose a sample of 39 doctor’s swipe cards to be tested and found that 21% were contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, including superbug MRSA. An accompanying questionnaire revealed that a minority of doctors cleaned their cards. Cleaning with alcohol removed all bacteria from swipe cards and card scanners. Cards that were kept in wallets or pockets were the most contaminated – only a little over a third of the cards were carried this way, but these accounted for two-thirds of all the dangerous bacteria.

”Security swipe cards and scanners are contaminated with, and may therefore act as a reservoir for, pathogenic bacteria implicated in hospital-acquired infection,” says Robert Greatorex, senior author or the study. “Regular cleaning of cards and scanners with alcohol removes all bacteria and would be a simple method of removing this potential source of hospital-acquired infection.”

The Royal College of Surgeons emphasises the importance of surgeons alerting their employers if they have concerns over the cleanliness of a hospital. For infection to be avoided a team approach is needed, where every member of the team takes responsibility for aspects of infection control.



Source: Security swipe cards are a potential reservoir for hospital-acquired infection M SULTAN, A ALAM, A HINDMARSH, R GREATOREX

Matthew Worrall – Email:; T: 020 7869 6047

Elaine Towell – Email:; T: 020 7869 6045