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Times of India
08 June 2011

Mobile homes in hospitals
‘Pathogens Breed More In Phones Of Patients & Relatives Than In Doctors’
Microbes Find
Mobile phones emit more than cancer–causing radiation. They harbour a range of microbes– be it the superbug MRSA or some throat–infection–causing bacteria. But the latest debate revolves around whose mobile phone is more unhealthy: that carried by a doctor or a patient?

A new international study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, showed that cell phones used by patients and their visitors were twice as likely to contain potentially dangerous bacteria as those of healthcare workers. It carried an analysis of swab samples of 200 mobile phones (133 belonging to patients and the remaining of healthcare workers), performed by department of medical microbiology at Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey.

Previous surveys – including one conducted in a Navi Mumbai hospital two years ago – had detected microbes on the mobile phones of doctors and healthcare workers. But the new study claims that 39.6% of the patient group phones as against 20.6% of healthcare workers’ phones were positive for pathogens. Some patients’ phones also showed multi–drug resistant (MDR) pathogens such as methicillin–resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and multiply resistant gramnegative organisms, but those of healthcare workers didn’t.

Mobiles have always been at the centre of ethical debates, thanks mainly to the radiation they emit. "Radiation is a bigger health problem than it acting as a surface for microbes," said a senior doctor with a government hospital. But there is no denying that hospitalbased infection can take a big toll: they worsen the plight of 25% admitted patients in developing countries.

In US hospitals, they cause 1.7 million infections annually and are associated with approximately 100,000 deaths. In fact, last year a British consumer organisation tested mobiles of over 100 people and found that each was 18 times more unhygienic than a toilet seat.

A study done among MGM Hospital’s 120 healthcare workers in 2009 revealed a virtual colony of microbes living on mobile phones. The hospital’s Dr Chitra Pai and Dr Nikhil Tandel even found the deadly superbug MRSA (which causes skin infections in the general community and difficult–to–heal infections in the soft tissues as well as, at times, fatal pneumonia in hospitals).

The team isolated microbes such as micrococcus (causing skin infection), fungi such as candida and aspergillus (that cause rashes and lung infection, respectively), among others. The doctors at various medical conferences underlined that mobile phones carried or handled with sweaty palms are good media for growth of microbes. The study found strains of staphylococci bacteria (54.6%), micrococcus (20.83%), candida (6.66%, aspergillus (5%), diptheriods (5%) and gram negative bacteria (2.5%).

Said Jaslok Hospital’s Dr Hemant Thacker, "Mobile phones are undoubtedly a part of every doctor’s life. They can house transmittable infection–causing microbes that could cause skin and soft–tissue infection. The problem begins when resistant bacteria are carried on mobiles." He believes that in healthcare settings, it is best to avoid sharing of mobiles, especially between patients.

Dr Camilla Rodrigues, head of microbiology department of Hinduja Hospital, Mahim, said that mobiles are like any other surface like door handles, cups, etc that act as transmitters of microbes. "In a healthcare setting, however, we can limit this spread by sanitizing our hands before checking patients."

But what about patients and their relatives? Doctors say that people shouldn’t share mobiles on a regular basis. However, a doctor said mobiles would not spread diseases to an entire community or lead to an outbreak.

Breeding Disease Swab samples of 200 mobile phones (133 belonging to patients and the remaining of healthcare workers), were analysed by department of medical microbiology at Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey The study claims 39.6% of the patient group phones were positive for pathogens, against 20.6% of healthcare workers’ phones Some patients’ phones showed multi–drug resistant pathogens like methicillin–resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), but those of healthcare workers didn’t

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