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Mobile Phones: A Hospital Infection Risk?

Investigators find RNA from epidemic viruses

Mobile phones are potential reservoirs of nosocomial bacteria and may pose an infection risk to patients if doctors and nurses don’t wash their hands after using them, according to a study published in Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

Investigators in France evaluated the presence of RNA from epidemic viruses, including metapneumovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza viruses, rotavirus, and norovirus, on mobile phones used by health care workers (HCWs) at a university hospital. An anonymous behavioral questionnaire about mobile phone use at the hospital was administered to the HCWs of four adult and pediatric departments. After sampling personal and/or professional mobile phones, virus RNAs were extracted and amplified by reverse transcription–quantitative polymerase chain reaction. The molecular results were evaluated in relation to the behavioral survey.

The investigators analyzed questionnaires from 114 HCWs (35 senior physicians, 30 residents, 32 nurses, and 27 nurses’ assistants) working either in adult (n = 58) or pediatric (n = 56) departments. Medical personnel used their personal mobile phones more frequently than did paramedical HCWs (33 of 65 versus 10 of 59, respectively; P < 0.001). Mobile phones were used during care more frequently in adult wards than in pediatric wards (46 of 58 versus 27 of 56; P < 0.001).

Virus RNA was detected on 38.5% (42 of 109) of collected mobile phones, with rotavirus found on 39 phones (35.7%), respiratory syncytial virus on three phones (2.7%), and metapneumovirus on one phone (0.9%). The presence of virus RNA was significantly associated with mobile phones collected from pediatric HCWs (P < 0.001).

Co-author Elisabeth Botelho-Nevers, MD, told the European Pharmaceutical Review that the team was surprised to find that a significant proportion of studied clinicians—20%—admitted to not washing their hands before or after using their personal phones.

The authors concluded that mobile phones routinely used in hospitals can host virus RNA, especially rotavirus. They encouraged frequent hand hygiene for physicians and medical staff before and after mobile phone use, along with frequent cleaning of the devices.

Sources: FierceHealthcare; June 22, 2016; and Clinical Microbiology and Infection; May 2016.

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