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Research Article - (2016) Volume 7, Issue 4

Bacterial Isolates from Cell Phones and Hands of Health Care Workers: A Cross Sectional Study in Pediatric Wards at Black Lion Hospital, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tolossa E Chaka1*, Girma Mulisa Misgana2, Bogale W Feye3 and Roza T Kassa4
1Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Adama Hospital Medical College, Ethiopia, E-mail: [email protected]
2Biomedical Department, Adama Hospital Medical College, Ethiopia, E-mail: [email protected]
3Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Addis Ababa University School of Medicine, Ethiopia, E-mail: [email protected]
4College of Health Science, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia, E-mail: [email protected]
*Corresponding Author: Tolossa E Chaka, Department of Pediatrics and Child Heath, Adama Hospital Medical College, Adama, P. O. Box : 84, Ethiopia, Tel: 251911413135 Email:


Background: Hospital-acquired infections are one of the major problems in hospitals resulting not only in increased morbidity and mortality but also increased healthcare costs. Inanimate devices are vectors for transmission of nosocomial pathogens. Objectives: To describe the role of cell phones in transmitting bacteria to dominant hands of HCWs in pediatric wards at Black Lion Hospital. Methods: A cross-sectional descriptive study was used. All staff nurses, pediatric residents and medical interns attached to the Pediatric department within the study period were included in the study. Samples were taken from dominant hands of each study participants and their cell phones. Results: Eighty five percent of the study participants never cleaned their cell phones. 78% of health care workers use their cell phones while working. Out of total 100 samples taken from hands and cell phones each, bacteria were isolated in 78% of hand swabs, in 62% of cell phones and in 18% of hand swabs taken after decontamination. The most common bacterial isolates obtained from hand swabs were Staphylococcus aureus (56.4%) and coagulase negative Staphylococcus (34.6%) while from cell phone swabs were similarly S. aureus (59.7%) and CONS (37.1%). The resistance pattern of S. aureus from hand swab was 24% & 44% respectively for vancomycin and ceftazidime; 40% of them were methicillin resistant. Conclusion: Cell phones harbour pathogenic and potential pathogenic bacteria which can be transferred to health care workers dominant hands that may increase risk of nosocomial infection. Therefore, hand washing should be exercised strictly. Alcohol hand rub is a solution if applied correctly and consistently before and after patient care.

Keywords: Cell phones; Bacterial isolates; Drug sensitivity; Ethiopia


CONS: Coagulase Negative Staphylococcus; HAIs: Hospital Acquired Infections; ICU: Intensive Care Unit; MRSA: Methicillin Resistant S. aureus ; NICU: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; OPD: Outpatient Department; S. aureus : Staphylococcus aureus; SOP: Standard Operative Procedures


Hospital-acquired infections are one of the major problems in hospitals, resulting in increased morbidity and mortality, and increased healthcare costs [1]. In developed countries, between 5% and 10% of patients acquire one or more infections, and 15-40% of patients admitted to critical care are thought to be affected [2]. In resource-poor settings including Ethiopia, rates of infection can exceed 20% [3,4]. Because most hospital-acquired infections are primarily nosocomial and not auto infections, their acquisition in the hospital environment adds to morbidity, mortality, and economic costs [5,6].

Hospital operating rooms (OR) and Intensive care units (ICUs) are the workplaces that need the highest hygiene standards, also the same applies for the personnel working there and the equipment used by them. Pediatric wards and NICU are not exceptions [7]. Studies have demonstrated pathogenic and potential pathogenic bacteria were contaminated frequently hand touched materials [8-11]. Cell phones are among non-medical devices used routinely all day long but not cleaned properly, as health care workers (HCWs) do not wash their hands as often as they should before and after touching cell phones [12,13]. Frequent hand touch, keeping habit of cell phones and heat generate by it create optimum growth environment for multiplication of the bacterial contaminants. Hence, mobile phones are particularly problematic when compared to immobile devices and may facilitate transmission of bacterial isolates from patient to patient in wards or hospitals [14].

Many studies have shown that both medical and non-medical devices used in the hospitals are the major sources of HAIs [8,9,15,16]. In one controlled study done in India on 200 mobile phones of HCWs, bacteriological analysis revealed that 144 of the 200 (72%) were contaminated with bacteria [17]. Among 144 bacterial isolates, 18% were MRSA, 32% MSSA, 13% CONS, and 33% aerobic spore bearers. Hence, 36% of the mobile phones were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, bacteria which are well known to be associated with hospital associated infections [17].

In Ethiopia, such study was not done and the prevalence of microorganisms on the cell phones handled by HCWs is unknown. Accordingly, the risk of handling personal cell phones in the working area is not known and also there is no guideline on how to cleanse cell phones while on work and no regulation whether to handle it or not either. The aim of this study was to evaluate the level of bacterial contamination of cell phones of health care workers and the role of these cell phones in relation to transmission of bacteria to the healthcare workers' hands.


Study design

A cross-sectional descriptive study was conducted from May to August 2012. All 100 nurses, interns and pediatric residents at the department of Paediatrics and Child Health of Black Lion Hospital were included.

Study area

Black Lion Hospital is largest tertiary hospital in Ethiopia. It is located in the capital city, Addis Ababa, and is part of Addis Ababa University Health Science College. NICU is again one of the few centres in the country taking the majority share with neonatal admissions, care and treatment. The samples were collected from dominants hands and cell phones of technical health care workers of paediatric residents, staff nurses and interns who were assigned to pediatric OPD, pediatric wards and NICU in the study period.

Data and sample collection

Data and samples were collected by two trained laboratory technologists after written consent was obtained from study participants. Self-administered questionnaires were used to collect demographic data, hand and cell phone cleaning and handling of cell phones. Swab samples were collected from cell phone of study participants using sterile swab moistened with normal saline rotated all over the surfaces of both sides of mobile phones (1st and 2nd swab). At the same time, 3rd swab was rubbed over the ventral surface of the dominant hand up to the tip of all fingers and the 4th swab was taken from the same hand after decontamination of the hand with 5 ml of 70% ethyl alcohol. Collected swabs were immediately put in to the transport media and samples were transported to laboratory with correct and complete labelling.

Laboratory isolation of bacterial contaminants

After gentle mixing, the eluted specimen was inoculated on 5% defibrinated sheep blood agar (Oxoid UK) and incubated at 37°C for 24 to 48 hours. Growth was checked every 24 hours. Growths were identified to genus and species level following standard bacteriological technique. The antimicrobial sensitivity tests of the isolates were determined using the Modified Kirby-Bauer disc diffusion method. The isolates susceptibility was tested for antibiotics listed in the national guideline for standard treatment. Data analysis was performed using SPSS version 20.


Of 100 study participants 61% were males and 39% were females (Table 1). Seventy four percent of the study participants reported that they clean their hands before touching their patients. Eighty one percent of them use alcohol and 19% use water and soap to clean their hands. Nineteen percent of them reported that they can get cleaning agents always, 40% mostly, 20% get infrequently and 21% reported cleaning agents are not available at all. The rate of routine cleaning of HCW's cell phones was 15% and 85% of the participants never cleaned their mobile phones. Seventy eight percent of HCWs use their cell phones while working (Table 2).

Ward Gender Profession
Male    Female President  Nurse Intern
NICU ward                                15 16 8 12 11
Pedi OPD ward            19 9 10 10 8
B7 ward (under 5)               12 8 8 5 7
C7 ward (5-12 years) 15 6 6 7 8
Total 61 39 32 34 34

Table 1: Socio demographic data of health care workers at Black Lion Hospital Pediatric wards, Addis Ababa, May to August, 2012.

  Gender Profession
    Male % Female % President % Nurse % Intern %
Using cell phone while working 78.7 76.9 100 47.1 88.2
Cleaning cell phone 16.7 23.3 9.4 68.9 3.3
using  alcohol for cell phone cleaning 50 71.4 100 54.5 0
Cleaning cell phone daily 37.5 42.9 0 36.4 100
Cleaning cell phone per month 25 14.3 0 27.3 0
Cleaning hand before touching patients 68.9 82.1 84.4 82.4 55.9
Using alcohol for hand cleaning 9.5 15.6 92.6 60.7 94.7
Cleaning hand always 4 37.5 29.6 32.1 21.1
Cleaning hand infrequently 30.9 12.5 14.8 25 31.6
Hand cleaning reagent always available 9.5 46.9 3.7 42.9 31.6
Hand cleaning reagent mostly available 66.7 37.5 66.7 28.6 73.7
Hand cleaning reagent infrequent available 28.6 25 29.6 35.7 10.5
Using water and soap for hand cleaning 11.9 6.3 74.4 39.3 15.8
Having finger ring 13 46 31 44 3
Having finger ring and hand swab positive for bacterial growth 4.9 33.3 15.6 29.4 2.9

Table 2: Patterns of cell phone handling and hand hygiene of health care workers at Black Lion Hospital, Addis Ababa, May to August, 2012.

Out of total 100 samples taken from dominant hand and cell phone each, bacteria were isolated in 78% and 62% respectively. Among the samples taken from the same dominant hands after decontamination with 5 ml of 70% ethyl alcohol, bacterial growth was seen in 18% of sample. From the total organisms isolated, Staphylococcus aureus constitutes 56.4% and 59.7% from hand and cell phone swabs respectively. Coagulase negative Staphylococcus was the second most common isolate constituting 34.6% from hand swabs and 37.1% from cell phones (Table 3).

Isolates From cell phone swabs (%) From hand swabs (%) From hand swab after decontaminating with 5 ml of 70% ethyl alcohol (%)
Staphylococcus aureus 59.7 56.4 20.1
CONS 37.1 34.6 18.5
Acinetobacter spp. 8.1 11.5 0
Pseudomonas spp. 11.3 8.8 0
Enterobacter spp. 4.8 2.6 0
Klebseilla ozonae 3.2 0 0
Citrobacter spp. 1.6 1.3 0
Klebseilla oxytoca 1.6 1.3 0
Klebseilla pneomonea 0 5.1 0
Streptococcus viridans 0 1.3 0

Table 3: Microorganisms Isolated from cultures of cell phone and hand swabs of health care workers at Black Lion Hospital Pediatric wards, Addis Ababa, May to August, 2012.

From 100 cell phones swab samples, 30.6% of the isolates were from pediatric residents, 29% from nurses and 40.3% from medical interns. The distribution of culture results from hand swabs were 32.1%, 29.5% and 38.5% for the respective professionals. It was found that 80.7% of cultures from cell phones grew one bacterial species, 16.1% two different species and 3.2% three or more different species. Those cultures from hand swabs grew one, two and three or more bacterial species in 78.2%, 18% and 3.8% respectively. Distributions of the isolated microorganisms from cell phones were similar to hand isolates (Table 4).

                    Gender Profession
  Male % Female % Resident % Nurse % Intern %
Growth obtained from hand swab 81.9 71.8 78.1 67.6 93.8
Growth obtained from cell phone 72.1 46.1 59.4 52.9 78.1
Only one type bacteria grew from hand 84 67.8 72 78.3 83.3
Two different types of  bacteria grew from hand 16 21.4 16 13 10
Three or more different bacteria grew  from hand 0 10.7 8 4.3 0
Only one type bacteria grew from cell phone 86.4 66.7 68.4 83.3 88
Two different types of  bacteria grew from  cell phone 13.6 22.2 21 16.7 12
Three or more different bacteria grew  from cell phone 0 11.1 10.5 0 0
S. aur positive from hand swabs 58 57.1 64 60.1 46.7
S. aur positive from cell phone swabs 56.8 66.7 63.2 77.8 44
CONS positive from hand swabs 36 28.6 36 21.7 43.3
CONS positive from cell phone swabs 40.9 27.8 36.7 22.2 48
Acine positive from hand swabs 10 14.3 12 4.3 16.7
Acine positive from cell phone swabs 6.8 11.1 10.5 11.1 4
Pseudo positive from hand swabs 14 10.7 8 13 6.6
Pseudo positive from cell phone swabs 6.8 22.2 15.8 0 16
Entero positive from hand  swabs 0 7.1 8 0 0
Entero positive from cell phone swabs 2.3 11.1 15.8 0 0
Klebozaenae positive from hand  swabs 2 10.7 0 8.7 0
Citro positive from hand swabs 0 3.6 0 0 3.3
KEY: Acine: Acinetobacter spp, Pseudo: Pseudomonas spp, Entero: Enterobacter spp; Kleb: Klebsiellaozaenae, Citro: Citrobacter spp.

Table 4: Patterns of bacterial growth by gender and profession at Black Lion Hospital Pediatric wards, Addis Ababa, May to August, 2012.

S. aureus strains isolated from hand swabs were resistant to oxacillin, vancomycin and ceftazidime in 46%, 24% and 44% respectively. The resistance pattern of S. aureus from cell phone isolates were 51.6%, 14% and 51% respectively for oxacillin, vancomycin and ceftazidime. CONS isolated were also resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics (Table 5).

  S. aur Cons Acine Pseudo Enter Kleboz Citro Klebox Klebp vird
Ampicillin 64 44 56 79 50 100 - 100 100 100
Augmentin 13 4 33 29 0 100 - 100 25 0
Clindamycin 24 30     -      - - - - - - 0
CAF 40 22 56 57 0 50 0 100 50 0
Erthytromycin 42 44 - - - - - - - 0
Gentmycin 27 44 22 14 0 50 0 0 50 100
Ceftazidime 44 59 22 29 0 50 0 100 50 0
Oxacillin 40 37 - - - - - - - 0
Cefoxitin 40 22 32 71 0 100 100 100 50 0
Ceftazoxime 38 44 22 29 0 - 0 - 50 0
Penicillin 71 59 - - - 100 - 100 - 0
Cefaclor 29 33 56 71 0 100 0 - 50 0
Cefotaxime 20 15 22 14 0 50 0 100 50 0
Vancomycin 24 11 11 - - - - - - 0
Tetracycline 49 48 22 14 50 50 0 100 50 0
Cotrimoxazo 36 37 11 57 0 100 0 100 50 100
Ceftriaxone 31 19 22 14 0 50 0 0 50 0
Doxycycline 31 48 11 14 0 100 0 100 50 0
Norfloxacilin 27 33 89 0 0 100 0 0 25 0
Amikacin 2 0 0 0 0 50 0 0 100 0
Ciprofloxacin 20 19 11 0 0 100 0 0 25 0
Rifampicin 29 22 - - - - - - - 0

Table 5: Drug Sensitivity testing for Hand isolates (Percentage of resistance for 22 antibiotics) taken from health care workers at Black Lion Hospital Pediatric wards, Addis Ababa, May to August, 2012.


Less number of interns (55.9%) washes their hands than nurses (82.4%) and Pediatric residents (84.4%) before patient examination. This may indicate that interns were not well aware of universal infection prevention precautions.

Out of total 100 cell phone swabs, growth was obtained in 62%. This is slightly higher when compared to a study done in India, which showed positive results in 40.6%. But, other studies showed higher rate of contamination in Turkey (94.5%), India (72.5 %) and in Cairo (96.5%) [7,19,20]. This variation may be due to differences in cell phone handling and hand washing practice.

This study revealed that the most common isolated organism from hand swabs was Staphylococcus aureus (56.4%). This is in line with the study done in Turkey showing contamination rate of 59.62% [7]. But, majority of the studies [21-23] showed CONS as the most common isolate. CONS were the second most common bacterial isolates in our study. Gram negative bacteria were isolated from 24% of hand swabs. This is comparable with results of Mohamad et al. [20] and Chandra et al. [22] which showed 32% and 30% respectively.

After using alcohol hand rub with 5ml of 70% of ethyl alcohol, contamination rate decreased from 78% to 18%. This is slightly lower than the study done by Usha et al. which showed decontamination efficacy of (98%) [21].

Study done in Black Lion Hospital in 2003 showed that E. coli (17.7%) was the most common cause of nosocomial infection followed by Klebsiella species, Pseudomonas species, CONS and S. aureus in that order [24]. Another study conducted by Shitaye et al. in the same hospital showed that Klebsiella species [39%] and S. aureus [22%] were found to be the most common pathogens isolated from blood cultures in neonates admitted with neonatal sepsis [25]. Our findings also showed that similar bacterial isolates are the contaminants of mobile phones and dominant hands of the health care providers in the same hospital. Among S. aureus grew from hand swabs, 40% showed methicillin resistance which is comparable result with the study conducted by Arora et al. (37.7%) [21], but lower than the study conducted by Shitaye et al. [25] where MRSA was detected in 66%. The difference may be due to variation in selective pressure and rational drug use in the study settings.

In this study S. aureus was found to be resistant to ceftriaxone in 32% and ciprofloxacin in 18% of growth from hand swabs. This is in contrast to the study done by Shitaye et al. which showed 6.7% and 0% respectively [25]. The resistance pattern for CONS in this study is 19% for ceftriaxone and 22% for ciprofloxacin again in contrast to 10% and 0% respectively to the study done by Shitaye et al. This difference may suggest the emergence of drug resistant isolates as this study was done in the same hospital after 6 years.


Cell phones harbor a lot of bacteria which can be transferred to HCWs dominant hands that may increase risk of nosocomial infection. The types, frequencies and resistance patterns of bacterial species isolated from hand swabs are similar to cell phone swabs isolates. Alcohol hand rub significantly decontaminates when used properly and consistently. The two commonest bacterial isolates (S. aureus and CONS) are multidrug resistant even to potent drugs like vancomycin & ceftazidime.


We would like to thank Addis Ababa University Department of Pediatric and Child health for funding the study.

We express our gratitude and appreciation to Department of Pediatric and Child health staffs, Pediatric residents, interns, laboratory technologists, nurses and data collectors that participated in the study.


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Citation: Chaka TE, Misgana GM, Feye BW, Kassa RT (2016) Bacterial Isolates from Cell Phones and Hands of Health Care Workers: A Cross Sectional Study in Pediatric Wards at Black Lion Hospital, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. J Bacteriol Parasitol 7:288.

Copyright: © 2016 Chaka TE, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.