UAE: Residents warned to regularly sanitise smartphones, smartwatches to avoid spread of disease

Wearable devices are a breeding ground for pathogens, warn experts, with research indicating that hand hygiene practices are negated if these remain unsanitised


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Thu 29 Dec 2022, 5:36 PM

Last updated: Thu 29 Dec 2022, 10:04 PM

A new study has underlined the need for mobile phone and smartwatch sanitisation to be included in global infection control protocols for the betterment of public health.

Smart devices, like mobile phones and smartwatches, are a potential breeding ground for disease-causing pathogens, since warm temperatures and high-touch surfaces are ideal conditions for germs to thrive.

A study carried out by the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU), in collaboration with Dubai Police and Australia’s Bond University in Queensland, has highlighted the need to do the same.

This new research indicates that hand hygiene practices are negated if wearable devices remain unsanitised.

Researchers recommend regularly sanitising smartphones with an alcohol wipe to remove as much bacteria as possible.

Professor Abiola Senok, Chair of Basic Medical Sciences and Professor of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at MBRU’s College of Medicine, said, “Our phones are never far from our sides; we take them everywhere with us. We all need to [make] a habit of regularly cleaning our mobile phones and smartwatches as much as we do our own hands.”

In this recent scientific study, researchers from MBRU and Dubai Police examined the extent of microbial contamination on smart devices in an emergency medical unit.

Samples taken from mobile phones and smartwatches, along with samples of the hands of healthcare workers, were investigated using next-generation metagenomics sequencing technology to identify which organisms contaminate these devices.

Lieutenant Colonel Dr. Rashed Alghafri, Director of the International Centre for Forensic Sciences in the General Department of Forensic Evidence and Criminology at Dubai Police, noted, “Our research findings showed that organisms identified from the hands of healthcare workers were also detected on their mobile phones and smartwatches.”

Some of the microorganisms identified on healthcare workers’ wearable tech were multidrug-resistant pathogenic bacteria. Among the randomly selected mobile phones tested, one from the unit’s Covid-19 zones showed positive SARS-CoV-2 detection.

“The presence of these microbes poses a risk of pathogen transfer to patients and the community. Infection control protocols, like mobile phone sanitation, could reduce this risk” Lieutenant Colonel Dr Alghafri added.

Dr Lotti Tajouri, Associate Professor at Bond University in the field of Molecular Genetics and a member of the Dubai Police Scientific Council said,

“Our findings are also important for global public health as organisms on the surface of mobile phones and smart watches can be carried across international borders by travellers.”

Dr Tajouri believes that sanitation protocols, such as ultraviolet C sanitisation devices in public spaces and airports, should be investigated to mitigate the risk of microbial contamination and dissemination on smart devices.


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