Phone Hygiene Could Reduce Coronavirus Spread in Healthcare Settings, Doctors Suggest

By Carolyn Crist

May 05, 2020

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Hospitals and other healthcare settings sometimes play a major role in spreading infectious diseases, and mobile phone hygiene could reduce the current coronavirus outbreak in these facilities, a group of doctors in India suggests.

Mobile phone hygiene, paired with recommended hand hygiene, could decrease transmission both at the individual and community levels, the doctors write in a commentary in BMJ Global Health.

"Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen many national and international organizations come up with many preventive strategies and advisories such as social distancing, frequent handwashing, cough etiquette and use of face masks, but amidst all of this, there is no mention of mobile phone hygiene," said Dr. Vineet Kumar Pathak of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Raipur, one of the authors.

"We can all admit that in today's world, mobiles are inseparable devices to us, and the list of uses is never-ending," he told Reuters Health by email. "They are equally important in healthcare settings and are the only devices that go everywhere but cannot be sanitized."

Mobile phones are one of the most highly touched sources of germs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, keyboards, tablets and bedside tables.

In healthcare facilities, phones are used to follow health-related news, communicate with other health care workers, look up recent medical guidelines, research drug interactions, understand adverse events and side effects, conduct telemedicine appointments, track patients, photograph items and update social media. In fact, one study indicates that some healthcare workers use phones every 15 minutes to every two hours, the study authors write.

"Mobile phones have both plastic and glass surfaces where SARS-CoV-2 can survive up to days," Dr. Pathak said, referring to the virus that causes COVID-19. "A healthcare provider who is using the mobile during duty hours at the hospital is going to use the same phone at home, which might be contaminated and act as a vector for infection."

To clean mobile phone screens, people should use 70% isopropyl alcohol or disinfecting wipes, the authors wrote, which companies such as Apple and Samsung have added to their user support guidelines during the pandemic. Phone users shouldn't use bleach and should make sure they don't allow moisture to go into openings such as charging ports, speakers or headphone outputs.

In particular, the authors recommend restricting mobile phone use in hospital wards, operating rooms and intensive-care units to slow the spread in coronavirus-infected areas. They also suggested using disposable and washable transparent polythene mobile phone covers. Headphones and wireless headsets could help health care workers keep phones away from their faces, and intercom systems could reduce the use of personal phones, the authors wrote.

"Do whatever is possible to restrict the virus spread," Dr. Pathak said. "Improper mobile phone hygiene almost negates the effect of hand hygiene since phones come into contact with the face."

Public-health groups such as the CDC and WHO should urge phone companies to issue additional advisories about COVID-19 and preferred disinfectants that won't damage phones, the authors added.

"Mobile phones are an indispensable part of communication among doctors and other healthcare workers in hospitals," said Dr. Deepak Juyal of Government Doon Medical College in Dehradun, India. Dr. Juyal, who wasn't involved with this paper, has researched mobile phones and the transmission of bacteria and viruses in hospitals.

"Mobile phones create a prime breeding ground for microorganisms that are normally found on our skin," he said. "Use inside of hospital premises should be restricted for emergency calls only, and infection-control committees at every hospital should step forward and make clear-cut guidelines."

SOURCE: BMJ Global Health, online April 22, 2020.