Mobile phones of hospital workers: a potential reservoir for the transmission of pathogenic bacteria

*[1]Bissong, M. E. A., and [2]Moukou, M.

1Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Bamenda, P. O. Box 39, Bambili, Cameroon

2Department of Medical Laboratory Science, University of Bamenda, P. O. Box 39, Bambili, Cameroon *Correspondence to: [email protected]; +237675301641

Abstract:

Background: Mobile phones are increasingly associated with the transmission of pathogenic microbial agents. In the clinical setting where there is usually high exposure to pathogens, these devices may serve as vehicles for the transmission/spread of pathogens. This study determined the prevalence of bacterial contamination of mobile phones of health workers and the predisposing factors, in order to ascertain the risk of transmission of pathogenic bacteria through mobile phones.

Methodology: This study was carried out in a private medical center at Mbouda, Cameroon, involving 78 health workers including health professionals (nurses, physicians, laboratory scientists) and hospital support workers (cleaners, cashiers and security guards), recruited by convenient sampling. Sterile swab sticks moistened with physiological saline were used to swab about three quarter of the surface of each phone. The swabs were cultured on MacConkey and Mannitol Salt agar plates which were incubated aerobically at 37oC for 24 hours, while Chocolate agar plate was incubated in a candle extinction jar for microaerophilic condition. The isolates were identified using standard biochemical tests including catalase, coagulase, and the analytical profile index (API) system. Data were analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) version 20.0.

Results: Mobile phones of 75 of the 78 (96.2%) health workers were contaminated, with highest contamination rates for the phones of laboratory scientists (100%, 12/12), followed by support staff (98.9%, 13/14), nurses (97.7%, 43/44) and physicians (87.3%, 7/8), but the difference in contamination rates was not statistically significant (p=0.349). A total of 112 bacteria belonging to 12 genera were isolated, with predominance of Staphylococcus aureus (31.3%, n=35), Micrococcus spp (30.4%, n=34), coagulase negative staphylococci (10.7%, n=12) and Pseudomonas spp (5.4%, n=6). The laboratory (18.8%, 21/112) and medical wards (16.1%, 18/112) had the highest bacterial contamination of mobile phones (p=0.041), and more bacterial species were isolated from smartphones (68.8%, n=77/112) than keypad phones (31.2%, n=35/112) (p=0.032). There was no significant difference between phone contamination rates and the practice of hand hygiene or decontamination of work surfaces (p>0.05).

Conclusion: The presence of potentially pathogenic bacteria on cell phones of health-care workers emphasizes the role of fomites in the transmission of infectious diseases. Consequently, good hand hygiene and decontamination practices are encouraged among health workers in order to limit the spread of hospital-acquired infections.

Keywords: mobile phones, bacterial contamination, hospital workers, risk factors, nosocomial infections

Received Dec 29, 2021; Revised Mar 28, 2022; Accepted Apr 01, 2022

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Mobile phones of hospital workers: a potential reservoir for the transmission of pathogenic bacteria