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J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2015 Feb 4;97(3):225-31. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.N.00523.

Investigation of cell phones as a potential source of bacterial contamination in the operating room.

Author information

Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Saint Louis University, 3635 Vista Avenue, Desloge Towers, 7th Floor, St. Louis, MO 63110. E-mail address for S.G. Karr:
Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Saint Louis University, 3635 Vista at Grand Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63110.
Department of Pathology, Saint Louis University, 1402 South Grand Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63104.



Cell phone use has become common in areas of the hospital, including the operating room. The purpose of this study was to document the frequency of bacterial contamination on the cell phones of orthopaedic surgeons in the operating room and to determine whether a standardized disinfecting protocol decreased the rate of bacterial contamination and the amount of organic material.


Orthopaedic attending and resident cell phones were swabbed on the front and back in the operating room with adenosine triphosphate bioluminescence to quantify organic material contamination and culture swabs to evaluate bacterial contamination. Adenosine triphosphate was quantified with use of relative light units. One photon of light was emitted for each molecule of adenosine triphosphate. Thresholds of 250 and 500 relative light units were used. The phones were cleaned with a cleaning wipe and were retested. One week later, a final set of studies was obtained. Fifty-three participants were enrolled in this study. Pathogenic bacteria were defined as those commonly causing surgical site infections.


Of fifty-three cell phones, 83% (forty-four cell phones) had pathogenic bacteria at initial testing, 8% (four cell phones) had pathogenic bacteria after disinfection, and 75% (forty cell phones) had pathogenic bacteria one week later. The mean result (and standard deviation) at initial testing was 3488 ± 2998 relative light units, which reduced after disinfection to 200 ± 123 relative light units, indicating a cleaned surface, but increased one week later to 1825 ± 1699 relative light units, indicating a poorly cleaned surface.


The cell phones of orthopaedic surgeons had a high rate of pathogenic bacteria and organic material contamination. Both were decreased after a single disinfecting process. However, recontamination occurred. It seems prudent to routinely disinfect them or avoid their use in the operating room.


The current study investigates orthopaedic surgeons' cell phones as a potential source of nosocomial infection in the operating room. On the basis of the high percentage of cell phone contamination found, we would recommend periodic cell phone cleaning with either the wipes used in our study or similar ones. In addition, given that there was a high contamination rate one week after disinfection, we would recommend considering cell phone cleaning more frequently than once a week.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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