We take it with us everywhere (to bed, to the kitchen, to the bathroom) and it is the first thing that many of us see as soon as we open our eyes. More than 90% of humans own or use a mobile phone on a daily basis, and it is hard for us to imagine what life would be like without them.
Health concerns about the use of phones often focus on the distractions they cause while driving, the possible effects of radio frequency exposure, or how addictive they can be. And while the risk of microbial infection via the phone is much less appreciated, it is very real.
A 2019 survey found that, In the UK, most people use their phone on the toilet. So it’s no surprise that recent studies have found that our cell phones are dirtier than toilet seats themselves.
To top it off, we give our phones to the kids (who aren’t exactly noted for their hygiene) to play with. We also eat while we use them and rest them on all kinds of surfaces, many of them dirty. All of these can transfer microbes to the phone, along with food deposits that those microbes can ingest.
It is estimated that people touch their phones hundreds if not thousands of times a day.. And while many of us regularly wash our hands after, say, using the bathroom, cooking, cleaning, or gardening, we’re much less likely to consider washing our hands after touching our phones.
Given how gross and germy phones can be, it might be time to start thinking more about phone hygiene.
Mobile phones full of germs, bacteria and viruses
Hands pick up bacteria and viruses all the time and are recognized as a pathway for infection. The same goes for the phones we touch. Several studies carried out on the microbiological colonization of mobile phones show that they can be contaminated with many different types of potentially pathogenic bacteria.
Among them are the E.coliwhich causes diarrhea (and which, by the way, comes from human poop). Also andhe staphylococcuswhich infects the skin; as well as the Actinobacteriawhich can cause tuberculosis and diphtheria; he citrobacterwhich can cause painful urinary tract infections; and the enterococcusknown to cause meningitis.
They have also been found Klebsiella, Micrococci, Proteus, pseudomonas and streptococcus on phones, and all can have equally unpleasant effects on humans.
Recent research has found that many phone pathogens are often resistant to antibiotics, meaning they cannot be treated with conventional drugs. This is worrying, since the above bacteria can cause life-threatening skin, intestinal, and respiratory infections.
Even if you clean your phone with antibacterial wipes or alcohol, microorganisms can re-colonize itindicating that disinfection should be a regular process.
Phones contain plastic that can harbor and transmit viruses. Some, including the common cold virus, can survive on hard plastic surfaces for up to a week. Other viruses, such as the virus that causes covid-19, rotavirus (a highly infectious stomach germ that usually infects infants and young children), influenza (respiratory infections), and norovirus (severe intestinal infections) can persist in infectable form for several days.
In fact, since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have introduced guidelines for cleaning and disinfection of mobile phones. Along with door handles, ATMs, and elevator buttons, they are considered reservoirs of infection.
In particular, concern has been raised about the role that mobile phones can play in the spread of infectious microbes in hospital and healthcare settings, as well as in schools.
Instructions to clean the phone
It is clear that we should start cleaning our phone regularly. In fact, the US Federal Communications Commission recommends daily sanitizing your phone and other devices, among other things because we are still in an active covid-19 pandemic and the virus can survive for several days on hard plastic surfaces.
It is best to use alcohol-based wipes or sprays. They need to contain at least 70% alcohol to sanitize phone cases and touch screens, and should be applied every day if possible.
Do not spray disinfectants directly on the phone and keep liquids away from connection points or other openings on the device. Absolutely avoid the use of bleach or abrasive cleaners. And wash your hands thoroughly when you’re done cleaning.
Thinking about how we handle the phone will also help us prevent it from getting infected with germs. When you’re not home, keep it in your pocket or bag and use a disposable paper to-do list instead of constantly checking your phone. When you touch it, do so with clean hands, washed with soap and water or sanitized with an alcohol-based hand rub.
Make it a habit to put your phone away when you’re not using it and to sanitize or wash your hands. You can also disinfect the cell phone charger from time to time when you clean it.
* Article originally published in The Conversation- Primrose Freestone is Senior Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology, University of Leicester.
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