Mobiles transmit infections too

Cell phones used by healthcare professionals are potential infectors as 40 per cent of them carried bacteria.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2006 12:28 IST

Mobile phones used by healthcare professionals in hospitals are potential infectors as 40 per cent of them carried bacteria, a new study has found.

"Mobile phones, personal digital assistants and wireless computers may transmit more than just information in today's busy hospitals. They may also be involved in transmission of infections in the healthcare systems," scientists from Kasturba Medical College in Mangalore claimed.

Mobile phones may get contaminated through the hands and when used carelessly in the ICU or surgical wards, can act as a source of infection to patients, they said.

"Moreover, these contaminated mobile phones and the hands of the healthcare professionals may also pose a danger in the spread of infection to the community," they reported in the journal 'Current Science'.

"Of the 30 samples collected from mobile phones and the hands of healthcare professionasl, 12 samples from the former (40 per cent) and 12 from the latter (40 per cent) showed growth of Staphylococco aureus (a type of bacteria)," they said.

Staphylococcus aures bacteria occurs in the skin or nose of healthy people.

However, it may cause mild or serious infection if it gets into the body through cuts, abrasion, wounds etc.

The study also found that 25 per cent S aureus bacteria isolated from mobile phones, 50 per cent isolated from hands of healthcare professionals and 41.7 per cent from patients on the hospital were resistant to a drug called methicillin.

S aureus bacteria was earlier treated with penicillin. After it became resistant to the drug, methicillin was used to treat it.

Other drugs are available, but these need to be administered intravenously.

The study also found other organisms such as S epidermidis and Bacillus in the cell phones and hand samples.

However, the bacteria isolated from patients did not show any genetic similarity with that isolated from mobile phones and hands.

Thus, inspite of colonisation of hands and mobile phones by S aureus bateria, the infection was not transferred to critically ill patients by healthcare professionals probably because they were compliant and followed strong and stringent hand-washing procedures prior to patients' examination, the report said.

The study, undertaken to know the role of cellphones in infection transmission in hospital settings, was carried out over a period of two months from September to October 2004 at the Kasturba Medical College.

Thirty samples of mobile phones and hands of healthcare professionals attending to patients admitted to the medicine and the neonatal ICU were collected.

A similar study at Soroka hospital in Israel found that 12 per cent of cellphones belonging to doctors and nurses carried a drug resistant bacteria called Acinetobacter baumanii which can be lethal to critically ill patients.

The hospital has now banned use of cellphones in patient care areas.

In another study, a variety of bacteria were found on electrocardiogram wires used to monitor ICU patients.

First Published: Apr 16, 2006 11:02 IST