Healthcare professionals have a myriad of factors to consider in preventing hospital-acquired infections, especially in the age of COVID-19. Yet, sanitation measures often miss one of the most ubiquitous sources of contamination, disease transmission and acquisition: mobile devices.
Data from a broad review of 56 publications across 24 countries suggest that the average microorganism contamination rate of mobile phones is at least 68 percent– most commonly with staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), coagulase-negative staphylococci and escherichia coli. At least a third of the studies conducted in healthcare settings alone also showed the presence of methicillin-resistant S. aureus, Acinetobacter sp and Bacillus sp, which is especially worrisome considering the risk to immunocompromised patients. Although the studies included in the review pre-date the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are concerned that current images across media outlets and social platforms show hospital staff wearing PPE and holding and using mobile phones, with and without gloves on.
Putting a finger on the problem
Mobile devices have increasingly been integrated into clinical practice, enabling point-of-care access at providers’ fingertips. But, interaction with these devices may occur more often than we think.
A 2016 ‘capture-in-the-moment’ study, tracking smartphone user interactions, showed that people touch their phones an average of 2,617 times a day. At the same time, hand hygiene measures in intensive care unit settings are only taken about 60 percent of the time, further suggesting that mobile devices may be contributing to the spread of SARS-CoV-2 within professional settings. And while it is broadly accepted that hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infection, touching a mobile device after hand washing is a recipe for reinfection and a key Trojan horse for coronavirus.
How to safely disinfect your devices
CDC includes electronics in a detailed “Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility” guide for community settings. But clinical settings often lack widespread standards and training on safely decontaminating mobile devices.
Short of institutional standards, both Apple and Samsung advise that respective iPhone and Android devices can be safely disinfected with 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipes or solution applied to a microfiber cloth. Additionally:
- Avoid using paper towels, which are too abrasive and may scratch device surfaces.
- Skip ‘do-it-yourself’ sanitizer solutions because incorrect ratios may disintegrate protective coatings on the display and ports.
- Don’t use bleach, aerosol sprays, or any other abrasive cleansers.
- Consider investing in PhoneSoap Med, which claims to kill up to 99.99% of MRSA microorganisms in 30 seconds.
In addition to hand hygiene, investing a minimum of a minute or two each day to cleaning and disinfecting mobile devices has the potential to decrease the spread of infection and possibly improve overall outcomes within and outside clinical settings.
- Mobile phones represent a pathway for microbial transmission: A scoping review. Travel Medicine and Infectious Diseases.
- Putting a finger on our phone obsession. DScout Blog.
- Hand Hygiene Compliance in the ICU: A Systematic Review. Critical Care Medicine.
- Hand Hygiene Recommendations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- How to clean your Apple products. Apple, Inc.
Keep your Galaxy devices clean. Samsung Electronics America