Using swabs and DNA extraction, new research claims to have uncovered the most comprehensive picture yet of microbes found on cellphones, with big implications for healthcare workers.
Most of us already know that our cell phones are likely to provide a welcoming home for germs.
A new australian studyhowever, claims to give the most complete picture to date of the extent of the contamination.
Its authors, including Professor Mark Morgan, chair of the RACGP-Quality Care (REC-QC) expert committee, believe the findings could have serious implications for infection control of healthcare workers, including in general practice. , and for the community at large.
The research, published in the journal Scientific reportswas carried out by dabbing the phones of 26 healthcare workers in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Pediatric Ward at Gold Coast University Hospital in Queensland.
The lead author is Lotti Tajouri, associate professor of genomics and molecular biology at Bond University.
He said newsGP the methodology, which included DNA extraction and next-generation sequencing, yielded more detail than ever before about what the ubiquitous devices harbor.
“What people were doing in the past was just the tip of an iceberg,” said Associate Professor Tajouri. ‘And now [with] what we have just published, we are looking at almost a complete iceberg.
“By swabbing and having direct sequencing, we could actually see all the genomes of all the bugs, regardless [of whether] they may or may not be cultivated.
On 26 cell phones, there were a total of 11,163 organisms, including 5714 bacteria, 675 fungi, 93 protists, 228 viruses and 4453 bacteriophages, as well as 2096 antibiotic-coding genes.
resistance and virulence factors.
The 1307 bacterial strains found include highly virulent and antibiotic resistant bacterial pathogens.
‘The medical personnel on duty with their [non-sanitised] mobile phones could be the cause of nosocomial illnesses contracted by vulnerable immunocompromised patients during various procedures,” the authors write.
Associate Professor Tajouri says the extent to which mobile phones are used in everyday life, as well as the way they are used, has led him to conclude that much more attention should be paid to the risks of infection they pose.
‘I consider cell phones [to be] our third hand, he said. “And the problem with cell phones isn’t just that we carry them everywhere, they’re actually a magnet for germs.”
He says the devices are stored close to the body in a warm place, their use in conversations and their presence during meals are among the factors that mean “the cellphone becomes like a five-star hotel for germs”.
He said he was inspired to resume research by watching hospital staff use their mobile phones during the birth of his child.
“As a microbiologist, I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s so wrong,'” he said.
In the recently published study, healthcare workers responded to a survey with details about their mobile phone use, with 46% saying they used their mobile phone in the bathroom.
More than half also said they had never cleaned their phones, which Associate Professor Tajouri says contrasts with their awareness that their device might harbor germs (96% said they thought it would the case).
While he expected to see a large presence of microbes after his first observations in the maternity ward, the results still surprised him.
Associate Professor Lotti Tajouri
“Where I’m surprised is the amount of so many pathogenic microbes,” said Associate Professor Tajouri.
“And where I’m very, very surprised is the amount of genes that turn out to be virulent factor genes as well as antibiotic resistant genes.”
For Associate Professor Tajouri, the most pressing issue is the possibility of contaminated mobile phones thwarting existing hygiene controls.
“The biggest problem I have … is that cell phones prevent hand washing,” he said.
“You can do the right thing by washing your hands as many times as you want. Ultimately, you contaminate your hands again when you touch your cell phone.
Implications for general practitioners
Prof Morgan said that although the study was conducted in a hospital setting, the results are highly relevant to general practice.
“I think it’s really important for GPS and its staff to know that cell phones are a perfect breeding ground or platform for microbes,” he said. newsGP.
“They are kept warm, often in a pocket, they breathe, there is a biofilm of fingerprints on their surface.
“This study showed that they are literally covered in all kinds of microbes, including superbugs, viruses, fungi and bacteria.”
He also said the study has implications for infection control.
“If you then touch a mobile phone, you should assume that your hands are contaminated again,” Prof Morgan said.
“And so it is necessary to use hand hygiene before and after touching a mobile phone and to clean the mobile phone as often as possible or possible.”
There is also a need, Professor Morgan believes, to assess ways to decontaminate phones. The study itself suggests ultraviolet disinfectants as a possible solution.
‘I hope [the study] will trigger an investigation into the most effective methods of sterilizing phones,” he said.
“If they’re effective, I’d like to see that wherever there’s a handheld alcohol dispenser, there’s also an ultraviolet sterilizer.
“We would have to do a survey of their real-world effectiveness before we get to that level of spending.”
The impact of such a focus on mobile phone hygiene is currently unclear, Prof Morgan says, but it is likely to be significant.
“We know that research on hand hygiene is very fundamental to preventing healthcare worker infection. [and] … the patient, he says.
“We know that hand hygiene is really vital and easy, and makes a huge difference.
“And we have to assume that cellphone hygiene is the same but just hasn’t been tested in the real world to see what difference it makes.”
The authors also report concerns about the role of mobile phones in the context of a global pandemic and for biosecurity.
“Hundreds of trillions of microorganisms on the surface of billions of cell phone fomites cross borders, using modern transport, unnoticed like Trojan horses,” the study says.
Associate Professor Tajouri said he believed poor awareness of mobile phone hygiene likely contributed to the spread of COVID-19.
“We warned in 2020 that the spread of SARS-CoV-2 could most likely be associated with cellphones due to modern transportation,” he said.
“Bugs on platforms like mobile phones stay alive. You can cross borders without any problem.
Professor Morgan, meanwhile, says he hopes the heightened awareness of infection control brought about by the pandemic could lead to a change in attitude towards the devices in our pockets.
“We are in the midst of a pandemic where public health knowledge about hygiene measures has increased dramatically,” he said.
“It would be helpful if cellphone use was part of that health literacy.”
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