SARS-CoV-2 found on 45% of phones: Study

Jolyon Attwooll

29/08/2023 3:24:26 PM

A systematic review suggests almost one in two mobile phones in hospitals harbour SARS-CoV-2, with authors calling for better infection control.

Dirty mobile phone
Authors of the study say infection control protocols in healthcare settings should include cleaning mobile phones.

SARS-CoV-2 can be found on around 45% of mobile phones in hospitals, according to a new systematic review carried out by Bond University researchers.
The analysis, published this month in the Journal of Infection and Public Health, considered the results of 15 studies which used swab samples from mobile phones to test for SARS-CoV-2.
Conducted between 2020–23 across 10 different countries, the studies checked 511 mobile phones, of which 231 (45%) were found contaminated with SARS-CoV-2.
All the studies took place in hospitals, with two also conducting tests in isolation rooms as well as a patient’s house.
Four studies recorded no SARS-CoV-2, while two recorded a 100% positive rate. The other studies ranged between 4–77% of mobile phones testing positive for the virus’s presence.
The authors of the systematic review include Professor Mark Morgan, Chair of RACGP Expert Committee – Quality Care, with the work being led by his Bond University colleague Lotti Tajouri, an Associate Professor of Genomics and Molecular Biology.
For Associate Professor Tajouri, the findings reinforced existing research.
‘This figure doesn’t surprise me at all,’ he told newsGP.
‘All previous studies have demonstrated that [mobile phones] are platforms for a multitude of different microbes.’
The researchers state that the study is the first systematic review to focus on mobile phones and contamination with SARS-CoV-2
In the study, authors warn that mobile phones are ‘contaminated platforms’ which pose ‘significant risk’ to human health.
For Associate Professor Tajouri, the findings have implications for general practice.
‘GPs are the frontline responders in terms of being right there for the community and ... infectious diseases are massive,’ he said.
‘When you have all those individuals going to see the GPs with their mobile phones, GPs should be really careful about the possibility that if they touch their mobile phones, or if GPs touch the mobile phones of their patients, they might actually convey the virus to their hands.
‘It’s important to implement in healthcare settings – hospitals, clinics etc – a way to decontaminate mobile phones.’
The study estimates that more than 90% of the world’s population now owns a smart phone.
‘Hence researchers are now recognising the potential of these billions of mobile phones to act as fomites,’ they wrote.
‘However, regulations are still very limited and in December 2022, the guidelines regarding clinical deep clean do not list the mobile phone platforms as surfaces to clean.
‘This means that current policies have not acknowledged the need to consider the contaminated surface of the mobile phone as a risk factor for nosocomial infection.’
The article calls for ‘a universal policy in infection control guidelines towards using mobile phones’, with authors suggesting ultraviolet-C germicidal sanitisers as one sanitation protocol that could help.
In outlining the limitations of the review, authors state that sensitivities of the testing techniques may have varied between laboratories and from country to country.
They also acknowledged that 10 of the 15 studies did not use a viral isolation test to assess the infectivity of the SARS-CoV-2 detected. 
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