Mobile phones represent a pathway for microbial transmission: A scoping review

Matthew Olsen, Mariana Campos, Anna Lohning, Peter Jones, John Legget, Alexandra Bannach-Brown, Simon McKirdy, Rashed Alghafri, Lotti Tajouri

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Mobile phones have become an integral part of modern society. As possible breeding grounds for microbial organisms, these constitute a potential global public health risk for microbial transmission. Objective: Scoping review of literature examining microbial's presence on mobile phones in both health care (HC) and community settings. Methods: A search (PubMed&GoogleScholar) was conducted from January 2005–December 2019 to identify English language studies. Studies were included if samples from mobile phones were tested for bacteria, fungi, and/or viruses; and if the sampling was carried out in any HC setting, and/or within the general community. Any other studies exploring mobile phones that did not identify specific microorganisms were excluded. Results: A total of 56 studies were included (from 24 countries). Most studies identified the presence of bacteria (54/56), while 16 studies reported the presence of fungi. One study focused solely on RNA viruses. Staphylococcus aureus, and Coagulase-Negative Staphylococci were the most numerous identified organisms present on mobile phones. These two species and Escherichia coli were present in over a third of studies both in HC and community samples. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus, Acinetobacter sp., and Bacillus sp. were present in over a third of the studies in HC settings. Conclusions: While this scoping review of literature regarding microbial identification on mobile phones in HC and community settings did not directly address the issue of SARS-CoV-2 responsible for COVID-19, this work exposes the possible role of mobile phones as a ‘Trojan horse’ contributing to the transmission of microbial infections in epidemics and pandemics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101704
JournalTravel Medicine and Infectious Disease
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Epidemic
  • Fomite
  • Microbes
  • Mobile phone
  • Public health
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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