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WESTWOOD, N.J. and HARRAH, Okla. -- As students in 119,000 U.S. schools return to the classroom this fall, administrators, teachers and parents should be aware that the flu virus can live on computer keyboards for at least one hour or longer, depending upon the moisture in the air and the temperature of the room.
Braced for the upcoming flu season and alarmed by reports over a potential flu pandemic, public/private schools and universities with multi-user computer environments are counting upon Unotrons SpillSealÂ® washable computer keyboards to mitigate the spread of infection. Unotron is an international manufacturer and marketer of washable data input and security devices.
At Clara Reynolds Elementary School in Harrah, Okla., principal Cheryl Hessman will be testing the SpillSealÂ® keyboards in the schools computer laboratory. Schools are vulnerable sites because student health habits are unpredictable, with many unaware of the consequences of coughing and sneezing on the computer keyboard, says Hessman.
According to Unotron director Joseph H. Carabello, there is widespread concern over the next flu pandemic, an outbreak of a new flu strain that historically hits every few decades. Many speculate that the next outbreak is imminent, fueling the scramble to replace existing computer keyboards with washable technology that can be disinfected, protecting students and faculty against the spread of infection. Computer keyboards are a key source of contamination, prompting school administrators, PTAs and others to replace existing technology.
Carabello says there is a sense of urgency to install washable keyboards. The U.S. Senate is alarmed and has already approved $3 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to stockpile medicines for fighting avian flu in case of a pandemic, plus another $1 billion for use in detecting and containing outbreaks of the disease around the world. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt indicates that the U.S. should have enough anti-flu drugs to treat 20 million people, but the current supply is sufficient for only a few million.
SpillSealÂ® washable computer keyboards are manufactured and assembled so that the dome under each key is welded into the key assembly, allowing the keyboard to be cleaned and disinfected using commercial cleansers and sealing it against liquid entering the keyboard. While standard keyboards also incorporate upturned domes underneath each key, the keys are either set in a rubber mat or single and loose, explains Carabello. However, when liquids are applied, including cleansers, the fluids can easily pass through the key, damaging the equipment and rendering it inoperable. As a result, the keyboards cannot be cleaned and remain on site, getting dirtier with every use.
Approximately one-fifth of the U.S. population attends or works in schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education, and nearly 22 million school days are lost annually due to the common cold alone, according to the CDC. Studies [Ansari (1988); Scott and Bloomfield, 1989] indicate that some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to 2 hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks.
While the flu has caused high rates of absenteeism among students and staff, school administrators can eliminate one significant potential transmitter of the flu virus by replacing existing computer keyboards with washable technology, recommends Carabello. Carabello also points out that Unotrons SpillSealÂ® washable computer keyboards are easy to use, an important benefit for students of all ages. When a key is pressed on the new washable keyboard, the dome under it presses down and makes the electrical contact to produce a letter. This allows each key to fully travel with touch-type response as opposed to most other sealed keyboards, which are sealed in a single casing and may pose difficulties for students. He contends that the student population may be particularly prone to spilling liquids on the keyboard, another problem with existing keyboards. One small spill may not flood the keys, but multiple spills that occur over time will eventually make a keyboard sticky. If you try to wash a standard keyboard with disinfectants and cleansers, it is likely to never perform properly again and will probably end up in the trash.