(NaturalNews) The cellular phones that hospital doctors and nurses bring to work are widely contaminated with dangerous pathogens, even when the health workers wash their hands regularly, a new study has found.
"Our results suggest cross-contamination of bacteria between the hands of health care workers and their mobile phones," wrote the researchers from Turkey's Ondokuz Mayis University in the Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials.
"These mobile phones could act as a reservoir of infection which may facilitate patient-to-patient transmission of bacteria in a hospital setting."
Researchers tested the dominant hands and mobile phones of 200 doctors and nurses in hospital intensive care units and operating rooms for bacteria capable of causing illness. While most of the health care workers followed hand washing guidelines, 95 percent of their phones tested positive for at least one dangerous form of bacteria. Almost 35 percent of phones contained two bacterial strains, while more than 11 percent contained three or more.
A full 12.5 percent of phones tested positive for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant variety of the common S. aureus bacteria that is responsible for staph infections. Due to its drug resistant prosperities, MRSA is much more difficult to treat than a regular staph infection and is significantly more likely to cause dangerous complications. If MRSA invades deep tissue or spreads beyond the skin to other organs, complications can include skin necrosis, disfiguring abscesses, blood infections, pneumonia and even death. It is particularly dangerous to those in a weakened state, such as hospital patients.
The prevalence of the bacteria is on the rise, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that the rate of hospital staph infections caused by MRSA to have risen from 2 percent in 1974 to 63 percent in 2004. MRSA is now considered responsible for a full 60 percent of all infections in hospitals.
CDC statistics record 94,000 MRSA infections per year in the United States, leading to 19,000 deaths -- more than the 12,500 deaths caused by AIDS in 2005. According to these figures, 31.8 out every 100,000 U.S. residents contract a MRSA infection each year. These figures were roughly in line with a nationwide survey conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology in 2007, which estimated that 46 out of every 1,000 patients in medical facilities contracts an MRSA infection, or 1.2 million per year.
Prior studies have found MRSA contamination on electronic devices such as keyboards, but the current study may be the first to look at mobile phones specifically.
The researchers attributed the high rate of cell phone contamination to the fact that only one in 10 health care workers reported cleaning their phone regularly.
"Mobile phones are widely used as nonmedical portable electronic devices and [are] in close contact with the body," the authors wrote. "The mobile phones are used routinely all day long but not cleaned properly, as health care workers [may not] wash their hands as often as they should."
While doctors and nurses might be exposed to dangerous bacteria in the course of their work, they might then carry them home on their phones and expose others to danger, the researchers warned. "Since no warning has been given for cleaning mobile phones to meet hospital standards, the same rates and composition of contamination of mobile phones could be risky when carried outside the hospital environment." The researchers advised that health care workers regularly swab their phones with alcohol-based disinfectants or anti-microbial substances. They concluded that banning cell phones from hospitals would be impractical, since the phones are now frequently used for work purposes during emergencies.