Epidemic viruses contaminate healthcare workers’ mobile phones

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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.

OnSurg thanks Skeptical Scalpel for permission to re-post his blog. Skeptical Scalpel tweets at @Skepticscalpel.
Featured image (CC): Esther Vargas

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