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Cell Phones Spread Bacteria In Hospitals

March 11, 2009

Mobile phones that belong to hospital healthcare stuff are found to be contaminated with bacteria and infections, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA), that is an extremely dangerous super-bug in hospitals all across the world, reported a team of researchers from Turkey.

Cell phones are important devices that are used with clean or dirty hands in everyday practice, including the hospitals, said Dr. Ahmet Dilek of the Faculty of Medicine at the Ondokuz Mayis University, Samsun. "Our team found that most of the medical professionals do not clean their own cell phones, and most of the dirty phones carried important hospital pathogens," he added.

Dr. Fatma Ulger, a lead author of the study and colleagues, tested the mobile phones and dominant hands of 200 doctors, nurses, and other hospital stuff members that were working in an intensive care units and operating rooms. They found that 95 per cent of all cell phones turned out to be contaminated with one bacteria, 35 per cent were home for at least 2 microbes, and 11 per cent hosted three or more bugs of various types. Most often the phones were carrying infections that were resistant to certain common antibiotic treatment. One in every eight handsets was found to carry MRSA. Potentially serious infectious bugs such as staphylococci were isolated from phones in intensive care units.

After testing the cell phones, the scientists conducted a survey among the staff members and revealed that 90 per cent of people working in hospitals never cleaned their phones, though most of them followed hygiene rules for hand sanitizing and washing. The researchers warned that dirty cell phones are like a nest of infectious microbes that "may facilitate transmission of bacterial isolates from patient to patient in wards or hospitals."

Some strains of drug-resistant bacteria do not pose any risk or danger to healthy people, in general, but can lead to lethal outcomes in hospital patients with weak immune system. The bacteria can penetrate through open wounds and through catheters or ventilator tubes, into sick patient's body, typically leading to such dangerous conditions like pneumonia or bloodstream infections.

The study, however, was based on a relatively small sampling and the scientists understand and acknowledge the fact that more research and investigation is needed do be conducted in order to confirm their findings. Meanwhile, the authors strongly recommended to clean the phones with alcohol-based sanitizers on a regular basis in order to avoid, or at least to reduce the risk of contamination and microbe spread. They said that it would be very hard just to forbid using mobile phones in hospitals, as in many cases they are being used for work purposes in emergencies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, MRSA is the cause of more than 60 per cent of all hospital infections in the United States. And infections acquired in hospitals are an important cause of death, CDC claims. In 2005, the bug infected 94,000 people and killed almost 20,000 just in the U.S.

The study was published online in the BioMed Central's journal Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials.

Tags: Health