Mobile phones – source of HAI

Patients and their visitors can prevent the spread of infection themselves being aware of their potential means of transport, for example mobile phones.

A team of researchers from Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey collected swab samples from three parts of cell phones — the keypad, microphone and ear piece. A total of 200 mobile phones were cultured for the study, 67 of which belonged to healthcare workers and 133 to patients, patients’ companions and visitors. The researchers found that 39.6% of the patient group phones and 20.6 % of healthcare worker phones tested positive for pathogens. Additionally, seven patient phones contained multidrug resistant (MDR) pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and multiply resistant gram-negative organisms, while no healthcare worker phones tested positive for MDR pathogens (abstract).

“The types of bacteria that were found on the patients’ mobile phones and their resistance patterns were very worrisome,” state the authors. “Some investigators have reported that mobile phones of medical personnel may be a potential source of bacterial pathogens in the hospital setting. Our findings suggest that mobile phones of patients, patients’ companions and visitors represent higher risk for nosocomial pathogen colonization than those of healthcare workers’.”

The danger lies in patients or visitors touching the device and not cleaning their hands before touching the patient. Hospital infection control departments should emphasize more the means of HAI transmission among visitors as well (eg. posters on cleaning phone, iPad, walkman, glasses with alcohol-based wipes or disinfect their hands after using the devices).

Students from University of Surrey were also curious what bacterias may the carry with their smart phones. Although the results showed that most of the bacteria were harmless, some disease-carrying bacteria were occasionally found, such as MRSA – a common cause of Staph infections including food poisoning, impetigo and even septicaemia. Dr Simon Park, senior lecturer in molecular biology, said: “From these results, it seems that the mobile phone doesn’t just remember telephone numbers, but also harbours a history of our personal and physical contacts such as other people, soil and other matter… Each phone tells a story.