White, Stephen, Topping, Annie, Humphreys, Paul, Rout, Simon and Williamson, Hanna (2012) The cross-contamination potential of mobile telephones. Journal of Research in Nursing, 17 (6). pp. 582-595. ISSN 1744-9871

The use of mobile devices for professional, business, educational, personal and social purposes has accelerated exponentially over the last decade. Staff working in healthcare organisations, and patients and visitors using healthcare settings, understandably want to use mobile technology. Concerns have been raised about safety in terms of interference with equipment, and threats to privacy and dignity, yet less policy attention has been paid to infection risks.

Healthcare professional students were supplied with smartphones as part of a larger educational project. Devices collected from a sub-sample of students working in operating theatre contexts were sampled to estimate the cross-contamination potential of the technology. A longitudinal multiple measures design was used. Under laboratory conditions, samples were taken from surfaces using swabbing techniques followed by contact plating. The devices were subsequently cleaned with 70% isopropyl alcohol and returned to the students.

All devices demonstrated microbial contamination and over three quarters (86%) polymicrobial contamination. The technique and sites used to sample for microbial contamination influenced the levels of contamination identified. Swabbing alone was less likely to isolate polymicrobial contamination than contact plating, and some microorganisms were isolated only by contact plates and not by swabbing of the same area.

The findings from this study demonstrate further research is urgently needed to inform evidence-based infection control policy on the use of personal equipment such as mobile devices in the healthcare settings where contamination may have adverse effects on patients, staff and visitors.

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