A New Look at Cell Phones and the Risk of Infection

For some time, it was bacteria on the cell phones of health care workers that were thought to present a risk of nosocomial infection to patients. A new study reveals that it’s actually the bacteria on patients’ cell phones that is more troubling.

According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, cell phones used by patients and their visitors are twice as likely to carry dangerous bacteria compared to the cell phones of health care workers. Researchers from the Department of Medical Microbiology at Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey, collected swab samples from three parts of the cell phones used in the study: the keypad, the microphone, and the ear piece. A total of 200 mobile phones were cultured, 67 belonging to medical employees and 133 to patients and visitors. Researchers found that 39.6 percent of the patients’ phones versus 20.6 percent of health care workers’ phones tested positive for pathogens.

Troubling Bacteria

Moreover, the types of bacteria found on patients’ cell phones and their patterns of resistance were especially troubling. Seven patient phones contained multidrug resistant (MDR) pathogens, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and multi-resistant gram-negative organisms, while no health care workers’ phones tested positive for these pathogens. 

To address potential dangers caused by the bacteria on cell phones, the study suggests that health care facilities take precautionary measures. The study also noted that earlier research has indicated that infections can be reduced by as much as a third if hospitals adhere to recommended infection-control guidelines.

In the U.S., hospital-acquired infections cause 1.7 million infections a year and are associated with approximately 100,000 deaths.

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