Mobile Devices/Smartphones as Potentially Hazardous Fomites.

  • Matthew Olsen

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In 2022, billions of mobile phones are in circulation, with two-thirds of the
world's population using a mobile phone and roughly three-quarters of all mobile handsets being smartphone devices. With the extensive availability of mobile devices/smartphones globally, the healthcare sector has adapted to using these devices as a work aid to increase the quality of care. Most doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff of all levels of seniority regularly use either their mobile devices/smartphones to communicate and provide efficient medical advice across departments in healthcare settings. Fomites are objects or materials that can become contaminated with pathogens and serve as vehicles of transmission of infectious microorganisms. While multiple fomites are reported in the literature, mobile devices/smartphones are often un-noticed and neglected platforms that may be responsible for large-scale microbial transmission. These devices have a strong point of difference when compared to other common fomites. Both the intrinsic features of mobile phones and user’s
habits provide the optimal conditions for microbes to thrive on phone surfaces. As frequent “highly touched” platforms with users spending on average 3-4 hours per day and touching their devices up to 3000 times per day, smartphones raise strong concerns for microbial transmission. The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has outlined that up to 80% of all infectious diseases is transmitted via hands. Of concern, whilst individuals wash their hands, mobile devices/smartphones are very rarely cleaned or decontaminated as phone hygiene is often overlooked. This enables continual re-contamination of hands via device interaction and allows pathogens to by-pass gold standard handwashing via these ‘Trojan Horse’ fomites and contribute to the spread of nosocomial disease in healthcare and community settings.

The systematic review demonstrated that mobile phones are contaminated with
pathogens; however, the use of traditional culture-based techniques results in an underrepresentation of the total microbiome of organisms present and, therefore, the need to conduct whole metagenomic next-generation sequencing. The first hospital-based cross-sectional study and hospital-based survey confirmed that mobile phones are often never cleaned and commonly used in toilets, which complements the spectrum of viable organisms uncovered as numerous faecal-based pathogens were established on healthcare workers' mobile phones. Both the first hospital-based cross-sectional study and the community-based study utilised a mixed-methods protocol of culture-based growth followed by next-generation sequencing, which allowed for a greater taxonomic scope of viable organism detection, however still limited in the spectrum of microorganism detection. The second hospital-based cross-sectional study resolves all previous limitations by utilising a direct swab-to-sequencing methodology and confirmed a wide variety of human, plant and animal pathogens with strong public health and biosecurity implications.
Finally, scientifically validated disinfection and decontamination protocols are critical in tackling this issue with industrial-grade ultraviolet-C phone sanitisers delivering a safe, efficient, and germicidal sanitisation solution.
Date of Award1 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLotti Tajouri (Supervisor), Rashed Alghafri (Supervisor), Anna Lohning (Supervisor) & Peter Jones (Supervisor)

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