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Title: The unseen breeding ground for pathogens : a study on the spectrum and awareness of microorganisms on smartphones of university students in South Africa, Kwa-Zulu Natal
Authors: Kuarlal, Nikyle
Ndlovu, Thandie Sylph
Prakaschandra, Dorcas Rosaley 
Keywords: Phones;Microorganisms;Contamination;Microbiology;Sanitise
Issue Date: 20-Nov-2023
Source: Kuarlal, N, Ndlovu, T.S. and Prakaschandra, D.R. 2023. The unseen breeding ground for pathogens: a study on the spectrum and awareness of microorganisms on smartphones of university students in South Africa, Kwa-Zulu Natal. The Journal of Medical Laboratory Science & Technology South Africa. 5: 84-89 (6). doi:10.36303/JMLSTSA.161
Journal: The Journal of Medical Laboratory Science & Technology South Africa; Vol. 5 
Background: Smartphone use has increased exponentially, having formed an integral part of the COVID-19 pandemic era, especially
in the academic arena. It has been established that fomites can harbour potentially pathogenic microorganisms, which pose health
risks to humans, particularly to the immunocompromised. The purpose of this study was to determine which microorganisms were
harboured on the surfaces of smartphones, document the device sanitisation and hand hygiene habits of students within a university
cohort, and determine associations of these habits with microorganism colonisation on smartphones.
Methodology: This study prospectively sampled 168 randomly selected students from different departments at the Durban
University of Technology (DUT). After informed consent, a swab sample from each participant’s smartphone was collected and
transported to the microbiology laboratory for culture following standard microbiological guidelines. Participants were also asked
about device sanitisation and their awareness of smartphones harbouring microorganisms. IBM Statistical Package for Social Sciences
(SPSS) Statistics V.27 was used for data analysis with the use of descriptive statistics, Pearson chi-square and Pearson’s correlation tests.
Results: From the 168 participants, microorganisms were detected in 113 (67.3%) samples, from which 20 different microorganisms
were isolated. The majority of microorganisms (n = 17; 73.7%) were opportunistic pathogens. Out of the 168 questionnaire responses,
only 36 (21.4%) study participants sanitised their smartphones despite 97 (57.7%) stating that they were aware of smartphones
harbouring microorganisms.
Conclusion: This study reports a high prevalence of microorganisms harboured on smartphones. The isolation of opportunistic
pathogens, as well as the low frequency of smartphone sanitisation, raises a need for awareness of the contamination of smartphones
and the potential risk of infection.
ISSN: 2664-2549
DOI: 10.36303/JMLSTSA.161
Appears in Collections:Research Publications (Applied Sciences)

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