Mobile phones used by healthcare personnel in the hospital can spread dangerous infectious agents, according to investigators in Israel.

In 2002, Dr. Abraham Borer, of Soroka University Medical Center in Beer-Sheva, and others randomly screened 124 hospital personnel for the germ Acinetobacter baumannii, a common source of in-hospital infections.

They found that 12 percent of healthcare providers’ cell phones were contaminated with the bug, the researchers reported here during the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

The results are disturbing because Acinetobacter baumannii has the propensity to develop resistance to almost all available antibiotics. It is especially dangerous because it “can survive on dry surfaces for a long period of time,” Borer told Reuters Health.

“Cell phones provide a large dry surface that allows survival of A. baumannii–it requires no nutrients,” he added.

A. baumannii is found in intensive care units, and the mortality rate among infected patients is very high — between 50 and 60 percent — Borer explained.

The bacterium was found not only on phones but also on 24 percent of the hands of the people tested, who included 71 physicians and 53 nurses.

“You can wash your hands correctly, as the guidelines recommend, but ‘autoinfestion’ commonly occurs” when cell phones are used by medical personnel in the hospital, the investigator said.

The use of mobile phones by medical personnel while they’re caring for patients is no longer permitted at his institution.

Before this study was conducted, cell phones had completely replaced the traditional pagers among physicians and nurses. “We are now exploring the possibility of using pagers again or some type of device that can be worn on the wrist that doesn’t require hand contact,” Borer said.
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