Mobile phones are covered in germs. Disinfecting them daily could help stop diseases spreading



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Lotti Tajouri, Bond University; Mariana Campos, Murdoch University; Rashed Alghafri, Bond University, and Simon McKirdy, Murdoch University

There are billions of mobile phones in use around the globe. They are present on every single continent, in every single country and in every single city.

We reviewed the research on how mobile phones carry infectious pathogens such as bacteria and viruses, and we believe they are likely to be “Trojan horses” that contribute to community transmission in epidemics and pandemics.

This transfer of pathogens on mobile phones poses a serious health concern. The risk is that infectious pathogens may be spreading via phones within the community, in workplaces including medical and food-handling settings, and in public transport, cruise ships and aeroplanes.

Currently mobile phones are largely neglected from a biosecurity perspective, but they are likely to assist the spread of viruses such as influenza and SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.




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What the research shows

We reviewed all the studies we could find in peer-reviewed journals that analysed microbes found on mobile phones. Our conclusions are published in the Journal of Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease.

There were 56 studies that met our criteria, conducted in 24 countries around the world between 2005 and 2019.

Most of the studies looked at bacteria found on phones, and several also looked at fungi. Overall, the studies found an average of 68% of mobile phones were contaminated. This number is likely to be lower than the real value, as most of the studies aimed to identify only bacteria and, in many cases, only specific types of bacteria.

The studies were all completed before the advent of SARS-CoV-2, so none of them could test for it. Testing for viruses is laborious, and we could find only one study that did test for them (specifically for RNA viruses, a group that includes SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses).

Some studies compared the phones of healthcare workers and those of the general public. They found no significant differences between levels of contamination.

What this means for health and biosecurity

Contaminated mobile phones pose a real biosecurity risk, allowing pathogens to cross borders easily.

Viruses can live on surfaces from hours to days to weeks. If a person is infected with SARS-CoV-2, it is very likely their mobile phone will be contaminated. The virus may then spread from the phone to further individuals by direct or indirect contact.

Mobile phones and other touchscreen systems – such as at airport check-in counters and in-flight entertainment screens – may have contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19 around the globe.

Why phones are so often contaminated

Phones are almost ideal carriers of disease. We speak into them regularly, depositing microbes via droplets. We often have them with us while we eat, leading to the deposit of nutrients that help microbes thrive. Many people use them in bathrooms and on the toilet, leading to faecal contamination via the plume effect.

And although phones are exposed to microbes, most of us carry them almost everywhere: at home, at work, while shopping, on holidays. They often provide a temperature-controlled environment that helps pathogens survive, as they are carried in pockets or handbags and are rarely switched off.

On top of this, we rarely clean or disinfect them. Our (unpublished) data suggests almost three-quarters of people have never cleaned their phone at all.




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What this means: clean your phone

While government agencies are providing guidelines on the core practices for effective hand hygiene, there is little focus on practices associated with the use of mobile phones or other touch screen devices.

People touch their mobile phones on average for three hours every day, with super-users touching phones more than 5,000 times a day. Unlike hands, mobile devices are not regularly washed.

We advise public health authorities to implement public awareness campaigns and other appropriate measures to encourage disinfection for mobile phones and other touch screen devices. Without this effort, the global public health campaign for hand washing could be less effective.

Our recommendation is that mobile phones and other touch screen devices should be decontaminated daily, using a 70% isopropyl alcohol spray or other disinfection method.

These decontamination processes should be enforced especially in key servicing industries, such as in food-handling businesses, schools, bars, cafes, aged-care facilities, cruise ships, airlines and airports, healthcare. We should do this all the time, but particularly during a serious disease outbreak like the current COVID-19 pandemic.The Conversation

Lotti Tajouri, Associate Professor, Biomedical Sciences, Bond University; Mariana Campos, Lecturer and researcher, Murdoch University; Rashed Alghafri, Honorary Adjunct Associate Professor, Bond University, and Simon McKirdy, Professor of Biosecurity, Murdoch University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Fix housing and you’ll reduce risks of coronavirus and other disease in remote Indigenous communities


Nina Lansbury Hall, The University of Queensland; Andrew Redmond, The University of Queensland; Paul Memmott, The University of Queensland, and Samuel Barnes, The University of Queensland

Remote Indigenous communities have taken swift and effective action to quarantine residents against the risks of COVID-19. Under a plan developed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group, entry to communities is restricted to essential visitors only. This is important, because crowded and malfunctioning housing in remote Indigenous communities heightens the risk of COVID-19 transmission. High rates of chronic disease mean COVID-19 outbreaks in Indigenous communities may cause high death rates.

The “old story” of housing, crowding and health continues to be overlooked. A partnership between the University of Queensland and Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation, in the Northern Territory’s (NT) Tennant Creek and Barkly region, re-opens this story. A new report from our work together is titled in Warumungu language as Piliyi Papulu Purrukaj-ji – “Good Housing to Prevent Sickness”. It reveals the simplicity of the solution: new housing and budgets for repairs and maintenance can improve human health.




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Infection risks rise in crowded housing

Rates of crowded households are much higher in remote communities (34%) than in urban areas (8%). Our research in the Barkly region, 500km north of Alice Springs, found up to 22 residents in some three-bedroom houses. In one crowded house, a kidney dialysis patient and seven family members had slept in the yard for over a year in order to access clinical care.

Many Indigenous Australians lease social housing because of barriers to individual land ownership in remote Australia. Repairs and maintenance are more expensive in remote areas and our research found waiting periods are long. One resident told us:

Houses [are] inspected two times a year by Department of Housing, but no repairs or maintenance. They inspect and write down faults but don’t fix. They say people will return, but it doesn’t happen.

Better ‘health hardware’ can prevent infections

The growing populations in communities are not matched by increased housing. Crowding is the inevitable result.

Crowded households place extra pressure on “health hardware”, the infrastructure that enables washing of bodies and clothing and other hygiene practices.




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We interviewed residents who told us they lacked functioning bathrooms and washing machines and that toilets were blocked. One resident said:

Scabies has come up a lot this year because of lack of water. We’ve been running out of water in the tanks. There’s no electric pump … [so] we are bathing less …

[Also] sewerage is a problem at this house. It’s blocked … The toilet bubbles up and the water goes black and leaks out. We try to keep the kids away.

A lack of health hardware increases the transmission risk of preventable, hygiene-related infectious diseases like COVID-19. Anyinginyi clinicians report skin infections are more common than in urban areas, respiratory infections affect whole families in crowded houses, and they see daily cases of eye infections.

Data that we accessed from the clinic confirmed this situation. The highest infection diagnoses were skin infections (including boils, scabies and school sores), respiratory infections, and ear, nose and throat infections (especially middle ear infection).

These infections can have long-term consequences. Repeated skin sores and throat infections from Group A streptococcal bacteria can contribute to chronic life-threatening conditions such as kidney disease and rheumatic heart disease (RHD). Indigenous NT residents have among the highest rates of RHD in the world, and
Indigenous children in Central Australia have the highest rates of post-infection kidney disease (APSGN).




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Reviving a vision of healthy housing and people

Crowded and unrepaired housing persists, despite the National Indigenous Reform Agreement stating over ten years ago: “Children need to live in accommodation with adequate infrastructure conducive to good hygiene … and free of overcrowding.”

Indigenous housing programs, such as the National Partnership Agreement for Remote Indigenous Housing, have had varied success and sustainability in overcoming crowding and poor housing quality.

It is calculated about 5,500 new houses are required by 2028 to reduce the health impacts of crowding in remote communities. Earlier models still provide guidance for today’s efforts. For example, Whitlam-era efforts supported culturally appropriate housing design, while the ATSIC period of the 1990s introduced Indigenous-led housing management and culturally-specific adaptation of tenancy agreements.

Our report reasserts the call to action for both new housing and regular repairs and maintenance (with adequate budgets) of existing housing in remote communities. The lack of effective treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19 make hygiene and social distancing critical. Yet crowding and faulty home infrastructure make these measures difficult if not impossible.

Indigenous Australians living on remote country urgently need additional and functional housing. This may begin to provide the long-term gains described to us by an experienced Aboriginal health worker:

When … [decades ago] houses were built, I noticed immediately a drop in the scabies … You could see the mental change, could see the difference in families. Kids are healthier and happier. I’ve seen this repeated in other communities once housing was given – the change.


Trisha Narurla Frank contributed to the writing of this article, and other staff from Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation provided their input and consent for the sharing of these findings.The Conversation

Nina Lansbury Hall, Senior Lecturer, School of Public Health, The University of Queensland; Andrew Redmond, Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland; Paul Memmott, Professor, School of Architecture, and Director, Aboriginal Environments Research Centre (AERC), The University of Queensland, and Samuel Barnes, Research Assistant, School of Public Health, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What is a rare disease? It’s not as simple as it sounds



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Yvonne Zurynski, Macquarie University

If you have a rare disease, you may be the only person in Australia with that condition.

You may not know, however, that being diagnosed with a rare disease means you are part of a community of up to two million Australians with one of these conditions. And more than 300 million people globally.




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Today, health minister Greg Hunt announced Australia will have its first National Strategic Action Plan for rare diseases.

This action plan will harness the power of rare disease advocates, patients and families, clinicians, researchers, peak bodies, industry and government to improve care for people with rare diseases.

What is a rare disease?

A rare disease is one that is very uncommon. The most widely accepted definition stipulates a rare disease affects fewer than five in 10,000 people.

Rare diseases are serious, complex, usually chronic, often life-limiting and most have no cure.

We know of about 7,000 different rare diseases, most with a genetic origin. Many begin in childhood.

Rare diseases are often progressive — they get worse over time — and can be associated with physical or intellectual disability.

Examples of rare diseases are uncommon childhood cancers such as hepatoblastoma (a cancer of the liver), and other better-known conditions like cystic fibrosis and phenylketonuria (a birth defect that causes an amino acid called phenylalanine to build up in the body, and untreated can lead to intellectual disability, seizures and behavioural problems). Both are symptomatic from birth. Huntington’s disease is another, but only shows symptoms in adulthood, even though it’s inherited.




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What makes a rare disease so difficult to diagnose and manage?

For a person living with a rare disease, and the people around them, the journey to obtaining a diagnosis and receiving treatment can be difficult, complex, worrying, confusing and isolating.

Rare diseases are difficult to diagnose because individually they occur so infrequently, and symptoms can be very complex. My research and another Australian study show it can take years to get the final correct diagnosis. Most health professionals have never diagnosed or cared for a person with osteogenesis imperfecta, Fabry disease or any other of the 7,000 rare diseases.

Added to this, the onset of symptoms for a rare disease can occur anywhere between birth and adulthood, and diagnostic tests are lacking or difficult to access.

Rare diseases are often genetic.
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But diagnosis is only part of the puzzle. People with rare diseases typically need complex care from large teams of health professionals because with many rare diseases, several body systems are affected. Also, given the often-progressive nature of the condition, care needs can change — sometimes dramatically — over time.

Important questions also arise around life expectancy and what the risks would be if the person with a rare disease was to start a family. Would their children inherit the disease? Genetic counsellors can help with these sorts of questions.




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Further, care is costly to families and to the health system. The cost of providing hospital care to just one child with a rare lung disorder who eventually needed a lung transplant amounted to almost A$1 million before the child’s ninth birthday.

The market for drugs for rare diseases, often called “orphan drugs”, is small. Although governments incentivise the pharmaceutical industry to develop orphan drugs, there are no effective drug treatments for most rare diseases.

In recognition that rare cancers and rare diseases traditionally lose out to more common diseases in terms of research, additional targeted funding has recently been allocated to boost research in Australia. In 2019 the NHMRC and the Medical Research Future Fund pledged A$15 million over five years for rare cancers, rare diseases and unmet need.

While a positive step, we are still lagging behind other countries. The United States, for example, spent US$3.5 billion (A$5.3 billion) on rare disease research in 2011.

Rare diseases commonly progress over time.
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What does the future look like?

The action plan recognises people with a rare disease and their right to equitable access to health and support services, timely and accurate diagnosis and the best available treatments. It aims to increase rare disease awareness and education, enhance care and support, and drive research and data collection.

Its roll out should lead to better outcomes for people with rare diseases and less worry and frustration for families. For example, access to care coordinators or care navigators could help guide people and families through our often-fragmented health, disability and social care systems.




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Recent advances in personalised medicine, where a person’s specific genomic make-up could be used to tailor specific medicines for that person’s particular disease, holds much promise for people with rare diseases in the future.

Genetic testing for critically ill babies and children is already resulting in faster diagnosis and treatment of rare diseases.

The action plan aims to build on and support the sustainability of these important developments.

If you or a family member has a rare disease, and you’d like more information, the Rare Voices Australia website is a good place to start.

Nicole Millis, CEO of Rare Voices Australia, co-authored this article.The Conversation

Yvonne Zurynski, Associate Professor of Health System Sustainability, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Does your mental state affect recovery from illness and disease? We asked five experts



A positive mindset can affect some aspects of disease, but grief is normal and to be expected.
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Alexandra Hansen, The Conversation

Many of those who’ve suffered from illness or disease would have received the advice to “stay positive”. Is this sage advice that can truly have a positive effect on health, or an added burden for someone who is already suffering – the need to also feel good about it?

We asked five experts in various fields whether a positive mindset can affect outcomes for those suffering from illness and disease.

Five out of five experts said yes

However, they had some important caveats. It depends on the disease – for example, one expert said studies in cancer have not found positive thinking affects disease progression or the likelihood of early death.

And while our mental health can have powerful effects on our physical health, the perceived need to “stay positive” can be an added burden during a difficult time. So it’s also important to remember grief is normal.

Here are the experts’ detailed responses:


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: alexandra.hansen@theconversation.edu.au


Erica Sloan is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Cygnal Therapeutics. Jayashri Kulkarni receives funding from the NHMRC.The Conversation

Alexandra Hansen, Chief of Staff, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After the floods come the mosquitoes – but the disease risk is more difficult to predict


Cameron Webb, University of Sydney

We’re often warned to avoid mosquito bites after major flooding events. With more water around, there are likely to be more mosquitoes.

As flood waters recede around Townsville and clean-up efforts continue, the local population will be faced with this prospect over the coming weeks.

But whether a greater number of mosquitoes is likely to lead to an outbreak of mosquito-borne disease is tricky to predict. It depends on a number of factors, including the fate of other wildlife following a disaster of this kind.

Mozzies need water

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in and around water bodies. In the initial stages, baby mosquitoes (or “wrigglers”) need the water to complete their development. During the warmer months, it doesn’t take much longer than a week before they are grown and fly off looking for blood.

So the more water, the more mosquito eggs are laid, and the more mosquitoes end up buzzing about.

But outbreaks of disease carried by mosquitoes are dependent on more than just their presence. Mosquitoes rarely emerge from wetlands infected with pathogens. They typically need to pick them up from biting local wildlife, such as birds or mammals, before they can spread disease to people.




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Mosquitoes and extreme weather events

Historically, major inland flooding events have triggered significant outbreaks of mosquito-borne disease in Australia. These outbreaks have included epidemics of the potentially fatal Murray Valley encephalitis virus. In recent decades, Ross River virus has more commonly been the culprit.

A focal point of the current floods is the Ross River, which runs through Townsville. The Ross River virus was first identified from mosquitoes collected along this waterway. The disease it causes, known as Ross River fever, is diagnosed in around 5,000 Australians every year. The disease isn’t fatal but it can be seriously debilitating.

Following substantial rainfall, mosquito populations can dramatically increase. Carbon dioxide baited light traps are used by local authorities to monitor changes in mosquito populations.
Cameron Webb (NSW Health Pathology)

In recent years, major outbreaks of Ross River virus have occurred throughout the country. Above average rainfall is likely a driving factor as it boosts both the abundance and diversity of local mosquitoes.

Flooding across Victoria over the 2016-2017 summer produced exceptional increases in mosquitoes and resulted in the state’s largest outbreak of Ross River virus. There were almost 1,700 cases of Ross River virus disease reported there in 2017 compared to an average of around 300 cases annually over the previous 20 years.




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Despite plagues of mosquitoes taking advantage of flood waters, outbreaks of disease don’t always follow.

Flooding resulting from hurricanes in North America has been associated with increased mosquito populations. After Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, there was no evidence of increased mosquito-borne disease. The impact of wind and rain is likely to have adversely impacted local mosquitoes and wildlife, subsequently reducing disease outbreak risk.

Applying insect repellent is worthwhile even if the risk of mosquito-borne disease isn’t known.
From shutterstock.com

Australian studies suggest there’s not always an association between flooding and Ross River virus outbreaks. Outbreaks can be triggered by flooding, but this is not always the case. Where and when the flooding occurs probably plays a major role in determining the likelihood of an outbreak.

The difficulty in predicting outbreaks of Ross River virus disease is that there can be complex biological, environmental and climatic drivers at work. Conditions may be conducive for large mosquito populations, but if the extreme weather events have displaced (or decimated) local wildlife populations, there may be a decreased chance of outbreak.

This may be why historically significant outbreaks of mosquito-borne disease have occurred in inland regions. Water can persist in these regions for longer than coastal areas. This provides opportunities not only for multiple mosquito generations, but also for increasing populations of water birds. These birds can be important carriers of pathogens such as the Murray Valley encephalitis virus.




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In coastal regions like Townsville, where the main concern would be Ross River virus, flood waters may displace the wildlife that carry the virus, such as kangaroos and wallabies. For that reason, the flood waters may actually reduce the initial risk of outbreak.

Protect yourself

There is still much to learn about the ecology of wildlife and their role in driving outbreaks of disease. And with a fear of more frequent and severe extreme weather events in the future, it’s an important area of research.

Although it remains difficult to predict the likelihood of a disease outbreak, there are steps that can be taken to avoid mosquito bites. This will be useful even if just to reduce the nuisance of sustaining bites.

Cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long pants for a physical barrier against mosquito bites and use topical insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Be sure to apply an even coat on all exposed areas of skin for the longest lasting protection.The Conversation

Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Death Toll Mounts in Chinese Earthquake


The death toll in the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that hit the Chinese province of Qinghai is fast approaching 1500 killed. The Qinghai province is located in China’s Tibetan region. Hundreds are still missing and more than 11 000 have been injured.

Damage in the region is tremendous, with many, many people homeless and facing disease, hunger and other difficulties as a consequence of this massive disaster. Thousands of homes and structures have been destroyed.