Sharpies have become a staple product in almost any office, classroom, boardroom, or even kids’ pencil case, but a new study released by the University of Alberta Medical School will probably put them in every operating room as well!
From the University of Alberta press statement:
When prepping for surgery it is standard practice for the surgeon or their designate to mark the operative site using a marking pen, a precaution to ensure surgeons cut the correct spot. A concern that germs would be spread from one patient to the next, however, has meant that each barely-used pre-surgery marker is thrown away after each use, costing thousands of dollars a year.
As it turns out, hospital staff was putting too fine a point on it, says Sarah Forgie, professor in the Department of Pediatrics, who, along with pediatric infectious diseases resident Catherine Burton, have shown that the tips of the Sharpies don’t spread infection.
In a controlled experiment, marker tips were heavily contaminated with four types of bacteria that can cause surgical site infections; two of the germ types are of particular concern in hospitals since they are antibiotic-resistant, Burton explained.
“With our little agar plates we put way more bacteria on these little nibs than you would ever find on a human and the alcohol effectively killed them from the Sharpie marker,” said Forgie
After recapping the markers and letting them sit for 24 hours, Burton and Forgie found that the sterile, one-use marker, which has a non-alcohol-base ink, was still contaminated, but the Sharpies were not.
This finding has caught the attention of organizers of a major conference on infectious disease taking place in Washington, D.C. at the end of October. They have invited Burton to share the team’s work with other disease control specialists from around the world.
It has also led to a policy change within Alberta Health Services.
“As long as surgeons or their designate wipe off the outside of the pens after each use, they don’t have to throw them out,” said Forgie, “which means there is a cost savings, and, most importantly, the markers are still safe for the patient.”