Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Epidemic viruses contaminate healthcare workers’ mobile phones

As if bacterial contamination of cell phones wasn’t enough of a problem, a new paper finds that viral RNA can also be found on the devices. But before you put your phone in the autoclave, read on.

The study was conducted in France and involved 114 healthcare workers (35 senior physicians, 30 residents, 32 nurses, 27 nurse assistants) who used both mobile and cordless phones in a university hospital.

Phones were swabbed and tested for viral RNA, and the subjects answered anonymized questionnaires regarding their behavior.

Viral RNA was recovered from 38.5% of the phones with rotavirus RNA on 93% of the virus-contaminated phones.

About two-thirds of the healthcare workers used their mobile phones while caring for patients, and 28% of them said they never wash their hands before using the phones, 37% never used hand hygiene after using the phone, and 21% said they never performed hand hygiene either before or after using a phone. This held true for personnel who interrupted caring for patients to answer their phone.

In an article about the study, one of the authors said, “It was surprising that 20% of them admitted never carrying out any hand hygiene procedures, either before or after using their phone, even though all said they knew phones could harbor pathogens.”

I too was surprised because that percentage seems remarkably low to me. I bet the number is much higher in real life.

The most striking finding of this paper is that are that the only factor associated with the presence of viral RNA on phones was that pediatric healthcare workers were significantly more likely to have phones contaminated with viruses.

According to the results section of the paper, “other recorded behaviors in using mobile phones at the hospital were not associated with viral contamination. Notably, there were no differences in the viral contamination regarding staff categories or hygiene habits related to the mobile phones’ uses.” [Emphasis added by me]

So in terms of viral contamination rates, it didn’t matter whether personnel wash their hands or not.

Despite finding that hand hygiene had nothing to do with the presence of viral RNA on phones, the authors recommended that hand hygiene should be performed before and after their use. They also suggested that “regular cleaning” [frequency or method not defined] of mobile phones should be encouraged.

The study was not designed to determine whether viral RNA found on phones was associated with any disease process.


William Reichert said...

Obviously cell phones should be autoclaved before each use or require that cell phones be used once then discarded like IV needles and tubing.

Anonymous said...


Skeptical Scalpel said...

Yes, get rid of cell phones after each use. Doctors could carry around a number of "burner" phones. Might be a bit expensive though.:-)

frankbill said...

How do the germs get on the phone in the first place?
What did we do before cell phones?

With todays blue tooth devices almost no need to touch a cell phone.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

Frank, the germs get on the phone from the hands of the user of the phone.

Before cell phones became ubiquitous, doctors answered pages by going to the even dirtier landline phones at the nurses' station or in the hospital corridor.

You can answer a telephone using a Bluetooth device, but you still need to touch the phone if you're dialing out especially to unfamiliar numbers. Also, the use of smart phones involves a lot of handling because people do Internet searches and other functions that require touching the screen.

frankbill said...

Isn't the problem not washing your hands in the first place?

Wasn't the old way of using the pager or being paged over PA system and then using the landline phones spreading more germs then using the cell phone? At least one can clean there cell as they see fit.

Does cleaning things like cell phones help with spread on germs or does it help create supper bugs?

William Reichert said...

Supper bugs are created usually by eating food that has not been
sufficiently cooked. Or eating food that has been cooked but has not been refrigerated properly if not eaten shortly after cooking.

Skeptical Scalpel said...

I'm sure pagers were covered with germs too. Good question about cleaning. I don't know the answer.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Europe: As for someone living in the German world I regard everything that comes from France (yes even Paris and Renault) with suspicion...
Anyway I work in a pediatric department and I use my smartphone after disinfecting my hand. My touchscreen can also sense fingers wet with disinfectant.
Just to be a bit tongue-in-cheek if I may: There is a rumor in Europe that the average French only showers 3X a week....No wonder their smartphones are so infected...:P

Skeptical Scalpel said...

So you really use hand sanitizer before using your cell phone every single time? You never answer it while examining a patient or when leaving a room but before getting to the sanitizer dispenser?

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