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Your mobile phone is a Trojan Horse for microbes

There are over 5 Billion mobile phones worldwide today. What if every one of those mobile phones was a potential “Trojan Horse” for the transmission of microbes and disease.

Unlike the wooden horse of Greek mythology, there is nothing mythical about the staggering number of living microbial organisms that are hiding in plain sight on the devices we carry around with us every day.

That is amongst the findings of Dr. Lotti Tajouri, Associate Professor of Genomics and Molecular Biology at the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine at Bond University, Queensland Australia.

Dr. Lotti Tajouri lives in the world of microbiology. More specifically, he studies microbes and the threat they pose to the world we live in.

In a recent scoping review conducted by Dr. Lotti and his colleagues, the findings exposed the role of mobile phones in contributing to the transmission of microbial infections in epidemics and pandemics.

“We were extremely surprised at the findings” said Dr. Tajouri.

Incorporating the findings of 56 studies from 24 countries, the scoping review found that 68% of mobile phones were contaminated with microorganisms. More than ⅓ were found to be contaminated by E.coli bacteria. Over 50% of phones in a healthcare setting were found to carry the antibiotic-resistant Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). 

The scoping review also hypothesized that mobile phones are most likely contributing to the spread of SARS-CoV2 (responsible for COVID-19 disease) within different professional settings including hospitals and may play a significant role in viral propagation within the community.

This hypothesis was further reinforced by a recent medrxiv study that discovered that samples taken from mobile phones of COVID-19 positive patients in a medical isolation setting found that around 78% were positive for COVID-19 virus RNA. 

“Our very nice phones are not that nice (when it comes to carrying potentially dangerous microbes)” says Tajouri “Cleaning our phones is a must-do. Mobile phones are our third hand, and they need to be clean like our other 2 hands”. 

The question then becomes how to most effectively clean a mobile phone. Because of the sensitive nature of the device, cleaning solutions that involve mechanical, temperature or pressure-based approaches will all damage a phone.

“This is where UV-C light becomes a solution.” said Tajouri. And safety is key. “Safety needs to be paramount. As soon as you tick ‘safety’, the solution becomes viable.”

Having a solution that is publicly available and allows someone to easily clean their mobile phone multiple times during the day, in the same way that hand sanitizer is publicly available, will help drive the behaviour of thinking of our phones as our “third hand” that needs to be cleaned.

Dr. Tajouri’s dream is that the world talks about and realizes the importance of the cleanliness of mobile phones in the same way we have realized the dangers of using mobile phones while driving, or the impact of mobile phone use on our kids.

“COVID-19 has shaken the whole world. There has been loss of life, huge economic impact. The conversation has shifted to include terminology such as ‘post-COVID’ and ‘new norms’.”

Raising awareness of mobile phone cleanliness is among Dr. Tajouri’s goals. His vision is to have a worldwide “mobile phone/touch screen cleaning day” that creates new behaviour globally.

In the meantime, Dr. Tajouri continues to build on the research around mobile phones and microbes, with a goal of further understanding the role mobile phones play in disease transmission, and hopefully disarming the “Trojan Horse” that we carry around with us every day.

Dr. Lotti Tajouri, Associate Professor, Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences & Medicine, Bond University, Queensland, Australia

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