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Mobile Phones in Hospitals Pose Pathogen Threat, Researchers Say

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 1, 2011

Wireless phones, an increasingly common presence in hospitals, are seen as a perilous health risk by researchers who say the number of dangerous multi-drug resistant organisms on patients' and their visitors' mobile devices greatly exceed the number on healthcare providers' devices in one studied hospital.

In a report  published in the June issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, Turkish researchers who examined pathogens on cell phones at the 800-bed University Turgut Ozal Medical Center suggest that their findings have important implications for hospitals in the U.S.

"The types of bacteria that were found on the patients' mobile phones and their resistance patterns were very worrisome," they wrote, adding that "specific infection control measures may be required for this threat."

The study was led by Mehmet Sait Tekerekoglu, MD, of the Department of Medical Microbiology at Inonu University in Malatya.

The researchers took swab samples from 133 mobile phones they obtained from patients, patients, companions, and visitors and 67 from healthcare workers, and ran cultures on bacteria collected from the keypads, microphones and ear parts of each device.

Nearly 40% of the phones collected from patients and their visitors, versus 20.6% of those collected from healthcare workers, showed presence of pathogenic bacteria. "Furthermore (a) higher number of multi-drug resistant pathogens were present on the mobile phones of (the) patients' group (including family members and patients' companions)."

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