Cell Phones of Hospital Patients Carry Pathogenic Bacteria

Laurie Barclay, MD

June 07, 2011

June 7, 2011 — Mobile phones (MPs) of hospital patients and their visitors carry a higher risk for nosocomial pathogen colonization than do the MPs of healthcare workers (HCWs), according to the results of a cross-sectional study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

"In contrast to [the] benefits of these devices, some investigators have reported that MPs of medical personnel may be a potential source of bacterial pathogens in the hospital setting," write Mehmet Sait Tekerekoglu, MD, from the Department of Medical Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey, and colleagues. "However, there are little data about the infection threat offered by the MPs of the persons except HCWs. The present study was conducted to determine whether MPs of patients, patients' companions, and visitors carry any pathogenic bacteria likely to cause infection in hospital wards."

Swab samples were collected from the keypads, microphones, and earpieces of 200 MPs, including 67 MPs belonging to HCWs and 133 belonging to patients, patients' companions, and visitors.

Pathogenic bacteria were cultured from 39.6% of MPs of the patients and visitors compared with 20.6% of MPs of the HCWs (P = .02). Multidrug-resistant pathogens, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, extended-spectrum b-lactamase-producing Escherichia coli, Klebsiella species, high-level aminoglycoside-resistant Enterococcus species, and carabepenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumanii, were cultured from 7 MPs of patients and visitors compared with none of the MPs of HCWs.

"Our findings suggest that [MPs] of patients, patients' companions, and visitors represent higher risk for nosocomial pathogen colonization than those of HCWs," the study authors write. "Specific infection control measures may be required for this threat."

Limitations of this study include its cross-sectional design and the relatively low number of medical personnel included in the study.

"However, regardless of the number of HCWs inclusions, the types of bacteria that were found on the patients' MPs and their resistance patterns were very worrisome," the study authors conclude. "We thought that low socioeconomic status of the patients and awareness about the hospital hygiene were the most possible reasons for the colonization of [multidrug-resistant] pathogen on their MPs. In addition to medical personnel, infection control professionals must consider patients' MPs as a potential source of infection."

The study authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Am J Infect Control. 2011;39:379-381. Abstract

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