Health care workers' mobile phones: a potential cause of microbial cross-contamination between hospitals and community

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2012;9(9):538-42. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2012.697419.


This study evaluated the microbial contamination of health care workers' (HCWs) mobile phones. The study was conducted at a secondary referral hospital in July 2010. Samples were taken from all surfaces of the mobile phones using a sterile swab, and incubated on Brain Heart Infusion agar at 37.5°C for 24 hr. Any isolated microorganisms were grown aerobically on 5% sheep blood agar and eosin methylene-blue agar medium at 37.5°C for 24-48 hr. The Sceptor microdilution system was used to identify the microorganisms, together with conventional methods. The oxacillin disc diffusion test and double-disc synergy test were used to identify methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and expanded-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)-producing Gram-negative bacilli, respectively. The mobile phones were also categorized according to whether the HCWs used them in the intensive care unit (ICU). Overall, 183 mobile phones were screened: 94 (51.4%) from nurses, 32 (17.5%) from laboratory workers, and 57 (31.1%) from health care staff. In total, 179 (97.8%) culture-positive specimens were isolated from the 183 mobile phones, including 17 (9.5%) MRSA and 20 (11.2%) ESBL-producing Escherichia coli, which can cause nosocomial infections. No statistical difference was observed in the recovery of MRSA (p = 0.3) and ESBL-producing E. coli (p = 0.6) between the HCW groups. Forty-four (24.6%) of the 179 specimens were isolated from mobile phones of ICU workers, including two MRSA and nine ESBL-producing E. coli. A significant (p = 0.02) difference was detected in the isolation of ESBL-producing E. coli between ICU workers and non-ICU workers. HCWs' mobile phones are potential vectors for transferring nosocomial pathogens between HCWs, patients, and the community.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Phone*
  • Community-Acquired Infections / microbiology
  • Cross Infection / microbiology
  • Equipment Contamination*
  • Escherichia coli / isolation & purification*
  • Escherichia coli / metabolism
  • Fomites / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus / isolation & purification*
  • beta-Lactamases / metabolism


  • beta-Lactamases