Resistant bacteria on health care workers’ phones

Here’s some of the news that I mentioned Friday – no, I’m not hoarding, I’m just desperately behind on some writing (and falling further down the curve all the time, but thanks for the concern).

A team from Ondokuz Mayis University in Turkey, publishing in the open-access journal Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials, looked beyond the concern over health care workers’ hands being clean, and decided to interrogate what those workers hold in their possibly-not-clean hands. They swabbed and tested the hands of 200 health care workers (“15 senior, 79 assistant doctors, 38 nurses and 68 healthcare staff “), and 200 phones. Their results:

  • 94.5% of phones colonized with bacteria
  • 49% of the phones grew one bacteria
  • 34% grew two species, 11.5% three or more

The language in the paper is a bit difficult, but if I’m reading it right, the colonization rates look like this:

  • 50 of the phone and 53 health care workes carried S. aureus (approximately 25%)
  • 52% of the S. aureus strains on phones were MRSA
  • 37.7% of the S. aureus strains on hands were MRSA.

Other organisms on the phones and the hands were other staph species, coliform, enterococci, moulds and yeasts.

The health care workers were certainly not infection-control outlaws: They washed their hands regularly. But only 10% of them had ever thought to clean their phones — which are held by the mouth and nose, a prime site for staph colonization, and go with them everywhere in the hospital, including to the OR and the ICU. (The paper doesn’t make clear whether the phones in question are hospital-supplied, with potentially many users, or personal, with one user, but going from hospital to home and back again.)

So: We’ve talked in the past about the many challenges of infection control in hospitals — all the many, tiny details in multi-person, highly technological health care that can trip up even well-intended infection control. (Remember the sinks?) Here’s just one more example of the unfathomable complexity of the journey of attempting to get to zero in healthcare-associated infections — a place, of course, where we all want to be.

The cite is: Ulger, F., Esen, S., Dilek, A. et al. Are we aware how contaminated our mobile phones are with nosocomial pathogens? Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials 2009, 8:7doi:10.1186/1476-0711-8-7

Maryn

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