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June 01, 2021

Veterinarians’ smartphones, tablets contaminated with staphylococci

Published on May 12, 2021

Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and medical devices are an important part of any veterinary hospital’s infection prevention and biosecurity program. But two items are potentially overlooked when drawing up and implementing infection prevention and biosecurity protocols: smartphones and tablets.

In fact, about two-thirds of smartphones and tablets used by staff members at the small animal hospital at the University of Bristol in England were found to be contaminated with staphylococci, according to a study published in the April issue of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association’s Journal of Small Animal Practice.

Veterinarian holding a smartphone

As described in a January BSAVA blog post, researchers took samples from the screen and any button of any personal electronic device owned by a staff member who worked directly with feline and canine patients. Hospital staff members were asked to complete a questionnaire to gauge the frequency of device use as well as frequency and method of device cleaning.

According to the study abstract, 41 of 48 staff members used a personal electronic device every day in the hospital, and staphylococci were isolated from 68% of the 47 usable swabs obtained from the devices. Vancomycin and oxacillin resistance were seen in 17 of 46 (37%) and 1 of 46 (2%) isolates, respectively, including four vancomycin-resistant, coagulase-positive isolates. Most of the staphylococci found on these devices were likely of human origin, suggesting contamination was more likely originating from staff members than patients.

Notably, 44% of staff members never cleaned their device, while 33% cleaned it less than weekly, and only 6% did so daily; 29% of staff members used antibacterial wipes, and 23% used a lint-free cloth.

In the blog post, Dr. Nicola Di Girolamo, editor of JSAP, said that although the study did not specifically focus on transmission of these microorganisms—and therefore the clinical implications aren’t clear—it seems prudent to develop appropriate protocols for cleaning of personal electronic devices in veterinary hospitals.

According to the 2018 AAHA Infection Control, Prevention, and Biosecurity Guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association, “Without effective infection control, prevention, and biosecurity (ICPB) implemented in the veterinary primary care and referral settings, the clinician’s efforts at disease prevention and treatment are compromised and, in some cases, nullified.”

The AVMA has a webpage on infection prevention and control, particularly relating to COVID-19.