Sunday, August 27, 2017

Is Your Phone Making Someone Sick?

At a busy doctor's office recently, I got in line to check my son in for a routine visit. Instead of the old-school clipboard they used to update patient information, the receptionist handed me an electronic tablet. I took it reluctantly, scrolled through the prompts with the stylus, and confirmed the information on the display. I stood back in line and handed it in.

Then I went to the bathroom and thoroughly washed my hands.

Am I paranoid about getting sick? Yes, I am. As a caregiver to a son with high medical needs, I can't afford to be sick for even one day. Although we have grown children who help us a lot, I am the only one who does all the skilled nursing treatments required by my son's high-level spinal cord injury. And because we operate a certified nursing home to care for our son, regulations define who can come in to assist us.

Our son's fragile respiratory status, his father's commitment to watch him every night while he is on the ventilator to sleep, and our youngest daughter's struggle to juggle caregiving with a full-time job, makes the health of our household a vital concern.

A cold for others is an inconvenience. For us, it is a disaster.

According to a recent issue of RN Idaho, a magazine published by the American Nurses Association of Idaho for Idaho's nurses, my concerns about mobile devices are well-founded. In the article, "Mobile Bugs: Are Pathogens on Your Devices?" the authors assert that mobile devices are, indeed, potential reservoirs for pathogens.

Every year more than 90,000 people die in the United States from healthcare acquired infections, also known as HAIs. HAIs are infections acquired during a stay in a hospital. Researchers have found that up to 95% of phones in hospitals were colonized with bacteria, of which 5% were pathogenic. Some pretty nasty bugs were found on them, including MRSA, E. coli, Acinetobacter, Enterobacter, Klebsiella, and Pseudomonas. Viruses like rotavirus and adenovirus were also discovered.

The most disturbing news was that most healthcare providers reported that they didn't regularly clean their mobile devices. Although a direct connection between contaminated mobile devices and HAI's has not been established, it should be treated as a real possibility.

And even though research has concentrated on HAIs in a hospital setting, common sense would suggest that community settings - and especially ones in which sick people are concentrated - should be treated as potential infection pools, as well.

Prevention from infection can be as simple as regularly cleaning our own mobile devices at home and those we use on the job. It should, of course, become a habit to wash our hands before feeding or otherwise giving care to those in our charge. And we should speak up when we see a healthcare provider forget to wash up before providing care to us or a loved one.

Breaking the cycle of infection is an important way to keep ourselves and those we love healthy.

Callegos, Cara; Hong-Engelhard, Cindy; McDuffee, Veronica; Boeck, Caitlyn (2017, August, September, October). Mobile Bugs: Are Pathogens on Your Devices? RN Idaho, 5.