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What creatures inhabit the surface of your cell phone?

Researchers find pathogens on 40 percent of hospital patient cell phones--with a small number of devices testing positive for "worrisome" drug-resistant bacteria--and call for infection control.

Germaphobes may want to navigate away from this page, lest they find themselves tempted to scrub their cell phones as often as their hands. Because cell phones are not only dirty, some of them even play host to what researchers are calling "worrisome" drug-resistant bacteria.

Various surfaces within treatment facilities can play host to creatures that are difficult to attack with antibiotics. Thus, proper surface sanitation and infection control are a real concern. Wikimedia Commons

A team from the Department of Medical Microbiology at Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey, set out to answer the question that serves as the title of their report: Do mobile phones of patients, companions, and visitors carry multidrug-resistant hospital pathogens?

They cultured 200 mobile phones, collecting swab samples from three parts of each phone: the keypad, the microphone, and the earpiece. They also separated the phones into two groups: those belonging to medical employees (67) and those belonging to patients and visitors (133).

Not surprisingly, the team found bacteria. But the disparity was significant, with pathogens on about 40 percent of phones belonging to patients but only on 20 percent of phones belonging to staff. Furthermore, seven of the phones (all belonging to patients or visitors) were found to host multidrug-resistant (MDR) pathogens.

"The types of bacteria that were found on the patients' [mobile phones] and their resistance patterns were very worrisome," the authors write in the June issue of the American Journal of Infection Control. "Our findings suggest that mobile phones of patients, patients' companions, and visitors represent higher risk for nosocomial pathogen colonization than those of [health-care workers]. Specific infection control measures may be required for this threat." Nosocomial infections are, generally speaking, infections related to health-care facilities.

Of course, the study's sample size is small, but it may serve as a reminder to those entering hospital rooms to first stow your cell phones and then wash your hands.