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Hospital Visitors' Cellphones May Carry 'Worrisome' Germs

WEDNESDAY, June 1 (HealthDay News) -- Compared with cellphones belonging to hospital staff, cellphones brought into the facilities by patients and the people who visit them are twice as likely to carry dangerous pathogens, a new Turkish study has found.

The finding stems from a bacterial analysis involving 200 cellphones belonging to patients, visitors and hospital workers.

"The types of bacteria that were found on the patients' [cellphones] and their resistance patterns were very worrisome," the study authors noted in a news release from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

"Some investigators have reported that [cellphones] of medical personnel may be a potential source of bacterial pathogens in the hospital setting," according to Dr. Mehmet Sait Tekerekoglu, of Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey, and colleagues. "Our findings suggest that [cellphones] of patients, patients' companions and visitors represent higher risk . . . than those of health care workers. Specific infection control measures may be required for this threat."

The findings are published in the June issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.

To explore the issue, the investigators collected swab samples from three separate parts of the phones: the keypad, the microphone and the ear piece. Of the 200 phones examined, 67 belonged to medical staff and 133 belonged to patients or their companions and visitors.

The result: Nearly 40 percent of cellphones belonging to patients were found to be positive for pathogens -- nearly double the rate among cellphones belonging to health-care staff (20.6 percent).

What's more, seven phones belonging to patients were found to contain multi-drug-resistant pathogens, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the study found. No such pathogens were found on the cellphones belonging to hospital staff.

The researchers pointed out that in developing countries, about a fourth of all hospitalized patients pick up infections while receiving care. In the United States, 1.7 million such infections occur every year, resulting in about 100,000 fatalities.

Prior research has suggested that such infections could be reduced by as much as a third if hospitals were to strictly follow recommended infection-control guidelines, the study noted.

More information

The Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths has more on hospital infections.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, news release, May 31, 2011

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