Shared VR headsets are carriers of antimicrobial resistant bacteria
Takuma Iwasa, Shiftall CEO, demonstrates the Haritora X, a full body tracking system for virtual reality, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada. — © AFP
One of the more popular innovations for gaming and training has been the advent of the virtual reality (VR) headset and VR systems are relatively commonplace. For those who need to share headsets, what are the hygiene levels and are there any general concerns with sharing these items?
VR headsets come in contact with or close proximity to the user’s eyes, nose, and forehead. Hence, the represent reservoirs for microbial cross-contamination.
According to one study, which set out to assess the potential for these headsets to become contaminated, the risk level depends upon the profile of the previous wearer and the level of cleaning and disinfection that followed.
That such transmission can occur should not be of surprise, for earlier research has established that the average number of microorganisms present on multiple-user computer keyboards is significantly greater than on single-user keyboards. Furthermore, the number of keyboards harbouring potential pathogens was also greater for multiple-user computers.
The research considered the transmission risks from the nosepieces and foreheads of two HTC Vive headsets. The surfaces were sampled over the course of a seven-week period. To assess the bioburden, serial dilutions were performed, and samples were plated on various culture media.
Even under conditions of a relatively brief contact with the fingers or an inanimate surface, a significant number of organisms can be transferred which can be recoverable onto an agar surface.
Once the organisms had grown, counts of bacteria were determined by assessing the 16S rRNA gene sequence. The primary organism recovered was Staphylococcus aureus. It was of public health importance that the strains recovered possessed high levels of antibiotic resistance.
The ecologic niche for S. aureus in humans is in the anterior nares, so recovery is unexpected and between one-quarter to one-third of healthy persons harbour S. aureus in the nose at any time. What is of more interest and significant was the level of S. aureus cells resistant to antimicrobials.
Other types of bacterial isolates included Moraxella osloensis, the bacteria responsible for foul odours in laundry (the acidic or sweaty smell sometimes associated with unwashed clothes) and, Micrococcus luteus, a communalistic bacterial species capable of causing opportunistic infections. Beyond these organisms, other bacterial isolates were detected at variable levels.
While this type of information does not mean that sharing VR headsets is a pathway to disease it does emphasise the importance of maintaining good hygiene and for wiping down shared body contact materials. Perhaps too often people are under the misapprehension that bacteria are only present in dirty locales or areas like hospitals. This can lead to the misleading feeling of security in other places.
Another interesting feature about the research and the organism recovered is related to their ruggedness. S. aureus can survive up to 7 months on dry surfaces and M. osloensis is noted for is tolerance to desiccation and UV exposure.
High-risk places affected by respiratory outbreaks
A respiratory virus outbreak has been declared at Southbridge Lakehead long-term care home.
The outbreak is facility-wide at the Vickers Street home. Restrictions are in place on admissions, transfers, discharges, social activities and visitation until further notice.
There are now four active respiratory outbreaks in high-risk settings in the Thunder Bay district, including at Hogarth Riverview Manor on the first floor and 2 North and on Plaza 1 at Pioneer Ridge.
A facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak is also ongoing at the Manitouwadge Hospital.
There are no active influenza outbreaks in the district.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit reports that emergency department visits because of respiratory-related complaints have decreased and are at seasonal levels in its catchment area and the influenza A surge overall has subsided with the peak in cases and hospitalizations having taken place in November of 2022.
COVID-19 does continue to circulate with 104 new lab-confirmed cases in the last seven days.
Hospitalization numbers are stable with 23 people in the hospital with COVID in the district, including three in intensive care units.
The health unit continues to stress the importance of precautions like getting the annual flu vaccine and latest COVID booster as well as wearing a face mask, particularly indoors and crowded places. Also, stay home when sick.
WHO advisers to consider whether obesity medication should be added to Essential Medicines List
Advisers to the World Health Organization will consider next month whether to add liraglutide, the active ingredient in certain diabetes and obesity medications, to its list of essential medicines.
The list, which is updated every two years, includes medicines “that satisfy the priority health needs of the population,” WHO says. “They are intended to be available within the context of function health systems at all times, in adequate amounts in the appropriate dosage forms, of assured quality and at prices that individuals and the community can afford.”
The list is “a guide for the development and updating of national and institutional essential medicine lists to support the procurement and supply of medicines in the public sector, medicines reimbursement schemes, medicine donations, and local medicine production.”
The WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines is scheduled to meet April 24-28 to discuss revisions and updates involving dozens of medications. The request to add GLP-1 receptor agonists such as liraglutide came from four researchers at US institutions including Yale University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
These drugs mimic the effects of an appetite-regulating hormone, GLP-1, and stimulate the release of insulin. This helps lower blood sugar and slows the passage of food through the gut. Liraglutide was developed to treat diabetes but approved in the US as a weight-loss treatment in 2014; its more potent cousin, semaglutide, has been approved for diabetes since 2017 and as an obesity treatment in 2021.
The latter use has become well-known thanks to promotions from celebrities and on social media. It’s sold under the name Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for weight loss. Studies suggest that semaglutide may help people lose an average of 10% to 15% of their starting weight – significantly more than with other medications. But because of this high demand, some versions of the medication have been in shortage in the US since the middle of last year.
The US patent on liraglutide is set to expire this year, and drugmaker Novo Nordisk says generic versions could be available in June 2024.
The company has not been involved in the application to WHO, it said in a statement, but “we welcome the WHO review and look forward to the readout and decision.”
“At present, there are no medications included in the [Essential Medicines List] that specifically target weight loss for the global burden of obesity,” the researchers wrote in their request to WHO. “At this time, the EML includes mineral supplements for nutritional deficiencies yet it is also described that most of the population live in ‘countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.’ “
WHO’s advisers will make recommendations on which drugs should be included in this year’s list, expected to come in September.
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“This particular drug has a certain history, but the use of it probably has not been long enough to be able to see it on the Essential Medicines List,” Dr. Francesco Blanca, WHO director for nutrition and food safety, said at a briefing Wednesday. “There’s also issues related to the cost of the treatment. At the same time, WHO is looking at the use of drugs to reduce weight excess in the context of a systematic review for guidelines for children and adolescents. So we believe that it is a work in progress, but we’ll see what the Essential Medicines List committee is going to conclude.”
Some pediatric surgeries may be postponed as pediatric ICU faces strain: Shared Health
Re-emerging levels of respiratory illness have caused increased patient numbers at the HSC Children’s pediatric intensive care unit over the last week, and some non-urgent procedures may be postponed, Shared Health says.
On Thursday morning, there were 17 pediatric patients in the intensive care unit, and a considerable number of which were already experiencing health issues that were aggravated by respiratory illness. The unit’s normal baseline is nine, Shared Health said in a Thursday media release.
The release said patient volumes at the children’s emergency department are stable but more children with flu-like symptoms have been recorded coming in over the last two weeks, going from a low of 22 in mid-March to 47 on Wednesday.
A variety of respiratory illnesses are spreading through the community and have contributed to the increased level of patients in the pediatric intensive care unit, according to Shared Health.
Meanwhile, the number of patients in the neonatal intensive care unit was at 51 on Thursday morning, which is slightly above the unit’s normal baseline capacity of 50.
Ten staff are being temporarily reassigned to the pediatric intensive care unit to deal with the increased level of patients, the release said.
Some staff are being pulled from the pediatric surgical and recovery units, which means non-urgent procedures may be postponed due to the reassignments, Shared Health said.
Families of patients impacted by the postponements will be contacted, they said, and all urgent and life-threatening surgeries will go unhindered.
Families can protect their children from respiratory illnesses by limiting their contact with people exhibiting cold-like symptoms, washing their hands frequently and staying up to date on vaccinations, Shared Health said.
Patient volumes increased last month
While overall wait times at emergency and urgent care centres were stable in February, Shared Health said daily patient volumes in the province went up.
The daily average of patients seeking care was 750 last month, which is an increase from 730.4 in January, according to a separate Thursday news release.
The average length of stay for patients in emergency or urgent care units to be transferred to an inpatient unit went down to 21.77 hours last month, which is an improvement from 22.5 hours in January, the release said.
The overall number of people who left without being seen went down last month, from 13 per cent in January to 12.1 per cent in February, according to Shared Health. It also decreased at the HSC emergency department, from 25 per cent in January to 23.4 per cent last month.
Shared Health is reminding Manitobans to continue to call 911 in case of an emergency, and said the sickest and most injured patients will remain their priority.
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