Wearable exercise monitors are a new focus of pathogen transmission in hospitals

April 19, 2019

A new University of Virginia study suggests healthcare workers who wear exercise monitors (e.g., Fitbits, smartwatches, etc.) to work could be carrying organic matter that could lead to hospital acquired infections (HAIs) infection in patients. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) high levels of organic materials have been associated with, HAIs.

The study, conducted at the University of Virginia Health System University Hospital in Charlottesville, VA, and published in the American Journal of Infection Control, took ATP samples from the exercise trackers (Fitbits, Apple Watches and Garmin watches) worn by 35 healthcare professionals (nurses or nursing students and other practitioners) over eight days.

The researchers used Hygiena’s SystemSure Plus ATP Sanitation Monitoring System to collect their data. A news release from the company said ATP detection can identify any organic material and not just bacteria and that many healthcare facilities use ATP monitoring to help verify its cleaning efforts.

In the Virginia study, the news release said results, expressed in relative light units (RLUs), showed that very few exercise trackers were considered “clean,” (under Hygiena pass/fail limits ranging from 100 to 50 to 10 RLUs, depending on location). Only one tracker was “clean” according to the “near patient area” threshold of 25 RLUs. Most trackers were very “dirty” and failed, with an average RLU of 375 (the highest score was 1,353 RLUs).

The researchers recommend hospital-wide studies in larger facilities to gather more data but also suggest healthcare organizations consider placing restrictions on wearing exercise trackers in a healthcare setting as they do re: the wearing of jewelry below the wrist.

On a similar note, another new study has revealed that the hands and nostrils of some hospital patients have tested positive for multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs) very soon after they were admitted, which could indicate that certain patients are already carrying infectious bacteria on their bodies prior to arrival, rather than picking it up during their time in the hospital. 

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