Mobile phones are a risk to public health, an Australian study has found. But it has nothing to do with electromagnetic fields and tumours. Instead the study, published recently in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, shows mobile phones used by medical staff in hospitals are dirty and help spread bugs. The study, conducted in the paediatric unit of Launceston regional hospital in Tasmania, showed 95 per cent of phones were colonised with bacteria such as skin flora. But only 5 per cent — one in every 20 phones — contained pathogenic bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and coliforms, which are a gut bacteria that can cause diarrhoea and blood infections. Yee Foong, then a medical student at the University of Tasmania, was compelled to undertake the study after observing that while everyone had phones, no one seemed to clean them and there were no mobile phone hygiene guidelines. “Computer screens get cleaned, computer keyboards get cleaned, everything gets cleaned, but because mobile phones are a personal thing nobody every thinks to clean them,” he says. For the study they took swabs from the phones of 226 medical staff in the hospital ranging from medical students to consultants and analysed the samples. They also interviewed the participants over their cleaning regime and found that while about one-third did routinely clean their phone, only 21 per cent used alcohol wipes. Interestingly, the study found junior medical staff, in particular interns, had the greatest contamination of their phones. Foong says this result needs further examination, but it could be due to the heavy workload of interns. “It might be that junior medical staff are very busy and always running around and forget to wash their phones, and forget to wash their hands routinely so that might result in greater growth of bacteria on mobile phones,” he says. Foong says because mobile phones are such an “integral part of most modern hospitals, guidelines for decontamination of mobile phones with alcohol wipes alongside adherence to other infection control procedures (i.e. hand hygiene) should be developed”. While he agrees patient and visitor phones might also contain harmful bacteria, he says clinicians are more often in close contact with patients. “It then becomes another way of introducing disease and transmitting bacteria,” he says. Foong does not believe it will be difficult to turn the issue around. “Only 21 per cent of the participants used alcohol wipes on their phones so that number can be easily increased,” he suggests.
ABC News, 13 July 2015 ;http://www.abc.net.au/news/ ;