9 April 2009
By Malathy Iyer
Doctors from a Navi Mumbai hospital recently completed a study that revealed a virtual colony of microbes living on mobile phones. MGM Hospital’s Dr Chitra Pai and Dr Nikhil Tandel, in fact, found the deadly superbug MRSA on some of the 120 mobile phones belonging to healthcare professionals that they tested.
MRSA (methicillin–resistant staphylococcus aureus) is known to cause skin infections at the community level. Within hospitals, it causes difficult–to–heal infections in the soft tissues as well as, at times, fatal pneumonia. MRSA has earned the name “superbug” as it is resistant to most modernday antibiotics.
Dr Pai and Tandel also isolated other microbes such as micrococcus (causing skin infection), fungi such as candida and aspergillus (that cause rashes and lung infection, respectively), among others, from the 120 mobile phones they studied. “Mobiles are kept in pockets or handled with sweaty palms, which are good media for growth of microbes. We found that 82.5% of the phones had microbes that could cause skin and throat infection,” Dr Pai said on Tuesday.
The MGM team took swabs from the phones of 120 healthcare personnel,including doctors, lab technicians, nurses and ward boys. “We isolated strains of staphylococci bacteria (54.6%), micrococcus (20.83%), candida (6.66%, aspergillus (5%), diptheriods (5%) and gram negative bacteria (2.5%),” she said.
The mobiles of 50% of the 30 lab technicians surveyed had pathogens, which are disease–causing microbes, while phones of 36.6% doctors had pathogens.
Dr Pai said while her study was confined to hospital settings, the same or worse condition could exist outside as well. “The phone of a taxi driver or a worker in a restaurant could also harbour many microbes. We need more studies,” she said. Global studies show that over 90% of the phones tested had microbes.
MRSA stands for methicillin–resistant staphylococcus bacteria
It was dubbed ‘uperbug’ because of its resistance to common antibiotics
It causes hard–toheal infections of the skin, soft tissues and lungs
The Mumbai study isolated staphylococcus in 65% of the samples