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Healthcare derived smart watches and mobile phones are contaminated niches to multidrug resistant and highly virulent microbes

Boucherabine, S., Nassar, R., Mohamed, L., Olsen, M., Alqutami, F., Zaher, S., Hachim, M., Alkhajeh, A., McKirdy, S., Alghafri, R., Tajouri, L. and Senok, A. (2022) Healthcare derived smart watches and mobile phones are contaminated niches to multidrug resistant and highly virulent microbes. Infection and Drug Resistance, Volume 15 . pp. 5289-5299.

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Background: As high touch wearable devices, the potential for microbial contamination of smart watches is high. In this study, microbial contamination of smart watches of healthcare workers (HCWs) was assessed and compared to the individual’s mobile phone and hands.

Methods: This study was part of a larger point prevalence survey of microbial contamination of mobile phones of HCWs at the emergency unit of a tertiary care facility. Swabs from smart watches, mobile phones and hands were obtained from four HCWs with dual ownership of these digital devices. Bacterial culture was carried out for all samples and those from smart watches and mobile phones were further assessed using shotgun metagenomic sequencing.

Results: Majority of the participants were females (n/N = 3/4; 75%). Although they all use their digital devices at work and believe that these devices could harbour microbes, cleaning in the preceding 24 hours was reported by one individual. Predominant organisms identified on bacterial culture were multidrug resistant Staphylococcus hominis and Staphylococcus epidermidis. At least one organism identified from the hands was also detected on all mobile phones and two smart watches. Shotgun metagenomics analysis demonstrated greater microbial number and diversity on mobile phones compared to smart watches. All devices had high signatures of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and associated bacteriophages and antibiotic resistance genes. Almost half of the antibiotic resistance genes (n/N = 35/75;46.6%) were present on all devices and majority were related to efflux pumps. Of the 201 virulence factor genes (VFG) identified, majority (n/N = 148/201;73%) were associated with P. aeruginosa with 96% (n/N = 142/148) present on smart watches and mobile phones.

Conclusion: This first report on microbial contamination of smart watches using metagenomics next generation sequencing showed similar pattern of contamination with microbes, VFG and antibiotic resistance genes across digital devices. Further studies on microbial contamination of wearable digital devices are urgently needed.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Harry Butler Institute
Publisher: Dove Press
Copyright: © 2022 Boucherabine et al.
United Nations SDGs: Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being
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