639 Growth of Bacterial Pathogens on Three Brands of Surgical Marking Pens

Saturday, March 20, 2010
Grand Hall (Hyatt Regency Atlanta)
Katy M. Callahan , University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
LeeAnn Turnbull, BSc , Alberta Health Services, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Robert Rennie, PhD , Alberta Health Services, Edmonton, AB, Canada
A. Mark Joffe, MD , University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Background: Marking pens used to delineate surgical sites in many healthcare regions are deemed single-patient use and discarded after a single use. This strategy has significant financial and environmental cost.

Objective: Our goals were to determine if 3 surgical marking pens in use in our regional hospitals support growth of common bacterial pathogens and whether an alcohol wipe can eliminate this growth.

Methods: Alcohol-based Sharpie® and Papermate® pens and single-use Cardinal Health® gentian violet-based pens were inoculated on their tips and bodies with one of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-susceptible S. aureus, vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, or Escherichia coli. Thirty-five pens of each type were inoculated in each trial by dragging the tip and body through bacterial colonies grown on a blood agar plate (BAP). The pens were subsequently tested for growth on their tips, bodies, and bodies after cleaning with a 70% isopropyl alcohol pad for 30 seconds. Testing was done at time intervals of 0, 7, and 20 minutes, 1 hour, 24 hours, 1 week, and 1 month after inoculation by streaking the pens (5 in each group) across a BAP, incubating at 37°C and assessing for growth at 18-24 hours. Growth was measured by approximating the percentage of the streaked area that was covered in colonies.

Results: Alcohol based tips did not support growth of any of the 5 pathogens tested. The gentian violet marker tips supported growth for up to one hour. Bodies of all 3 pen types supported bacterial growth for up to one month. After cleaning with 70% isopropyl alcohol, no bacterial growth was detected for 98% of Sharpies®, 94% of Papermates®, and 87% of Cardinal Health® pens.

Conclusions: Surgical marking pens support growth of common bacterial pathogens for at least one month. Alcohol-based surgical marking pens may be reused safely if they are carefully wiped with 70% isopropyl alcohol. Reuse of markers may provide significant financial savings to busy surgical services.