Most of us know telephones, especially public phones, can carry a number of germs on them. However, people tend to give this little thought, unless it’s flu or cold season. Even then, how many of us actually wipe clean a telephone receiver before using it? Very few, if truth be told.
Picking up more than a Call
During the winter of 2007, a study was conducted at a large U.S. university, which examined 25 telephone mouthpieces. The following was present on 64 percent of the mouthpieces:
- Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause a wide variety of diseases in humans
- Vancomycin-resistant enterococci, bacteria that can cause serious infection and, due to its durability and resistant nature, is often compared to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)*
- Klebsiella ozaenae, bacteria associated with serious respiratory diseases.
The researchers also tested the efficacy of disinfectants to reduce or eliminate the bacteria counts. To do this, the mouthpieces were cleaned using wipes that contained 70 percent isopropyl alcohol, 1.84 percent sodium hypochlorite, or quaternary ammonium compounds. According to the investigators, the sodium hypochlorite-based cleaner demonstrated the greatest efficacy at removing or killing test organisms from telephone mouthpieces.
The data and researchers indicate that the wipes and the tested cleaners are appropriate “and needed” for cleaning and disinfecting public telephones as well as other shared telephones, such as those in offices, schools, and other facilities.
Hold the Phones
However, there is conflicting data and debate. In another study, which was carried out by the Welsh School of Pharmacy, Wales, the superbug MRSA was able to survive on surfaces, even after different pre-treated antibacterial wipes were used.
The reasons for this, according to this study, varied:
- In some cases, the wipes that were marketed as being able to kill MRSA simply did not kill the germs and bacteria associated with the infection.
- In some situations, the wipe container was not air-tight, causing bacteria-killing disinfectants to dry and lose their efficacy.
- Further, researchers also concluded that these containers may have been touched and contaminated by the soiled fingers or gloves of the user.
A further problem—and one of the most serious the study revealed—was that the antibacterial wipes were used on several surfaces. The problem this caused was that instead of killing germs, the wipes were actually spreading germs and bacteria from location to location.
The Welsh researchers suggested one way to make sure the wipes are effective is to just use for one application and then discard. “Use it and lose it,” was their recommendation.
Additionally, because some antibacterial wipes were not effective against MRSA-causing bacteria, a dry wipe, instead of a pre-treated wipe, may be a better option. With a dry wipe, the user can use the appropriate chemical disinfectant as needed, which will ensure the cleaning is effective at killing germs and bacteria. Further, since the wipes are treated with disinfectants when needed, it is less likely they will lose their germ-killing powers due to drying out or becoming contaminated in their container.
*Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus