Italian Study Shows Healthcare Trainees Often Use Cellphones Without Regular Disinfection

By Linda Carroll

September 14, 2020

(Reuters Health) - Cell phones might be an unrecognized source of COVID-19 transmission, a new article suggests.

Researchers surveying trainees in Rome found that many used their smartphones during training in the hospital and few used gloves during training, according to the report published in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease.

"In our recent work we observed that, in a sample of 108 students in healthcare professions, almost all of them (93%) used the telephone in the ward, and only 11% of those who used (cellphones) wearing gloves stated they changed them after use during common healthcare," write the researchers, led by Gian Loreto D'Alo, a researcher with the University of Rome Tor Vergata. "In this sample, only 3% said they cleaned the surface of their phones daily."

That data was collected in the academic year 2018-2019, when 101 out of 108 (93%) reported using their phones during training, 16 out of 108 reported wearing gloves with the phone and 2 out of those 16 reported changing their gloves.

During the academic year 2018-2020, the researchers surveyed another group of students. Of the 83 responders, a similar proportion as before, 89%, said they used smartphones during training on the ward, 10 said they used gloves with the smartphone and 9 reported changing their gloves.

"These habits could potentially reduce or nullify the effect of hand hygiene procedures, since previously decontaminated hands may become contaminated again by microorganisms present on the device," D'Alo and his colleagues write.

All of this is especially important during the COVID-19 era, the researchers note. And with increased awareness of the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 transmission cellphone companies have released guidance on how to properly disinfect phones, they write, adding when there is no guidance, alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70% alcohol should be used.

The authors call for more research on the types of viral materials can be found on phones and whether those viruses are viable.

The message is that mobile phones could be involved in the transmission of pathogens in the healthcare setting, said Dr. Graham Snyder director of hospital epidemiology and infection prevention at UPMC in Pittsburgh.

SOURCE: Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, online September 2, 2020.