The internet, friends, and harmful bacteria at our fingertips

By Lois Kim

In today’s society, people are obsessed with their smart-phones. We are constantly on our phones, whether we are walking across the street or taking a break from work. In fact, cell phones have replaced newspapers, magazines, and books not only by how text is read but also by what we do when using the toilet. And although we normally wash our hands after using the restroom, we almost never make sure to sanitize our phones, ever. This raises the question: How clean are cell phones?

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and the University of London designed a study to find out how many cell phones carried bacteria. Although 95% of the 390 people surveyed claimed to always wash their hands after using the toilet, with soap when available, the study found disappointing evidence. 82% of the people tested had bacteria that can be killed by soap on their hands and 92% of them had bacteria on their cell phones. Not to mention, Escherichia coli (e. coli) was present on 16% of the people and 16% of the phones. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), although some types of E. coli are harmless, others can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, or other illnesses.)

Tests also found staphylococci (which can cause skin infections, pneumonia, food poisoning, toxic shock syndrome, and blood poisoning), Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria (which can lead potentially life threatening skin infections), flu viruses, pink-eye, and 27 to 42 thousand times the amount of fecal-related bacteria that is allowed in one half cup of drinking water.

In fact, a small test done by BuzzFeed Blue in collaboration with William DePaolo, PhD, an assistant professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, toilet seats can actually be cleaner than cell phones. While the toilet seats had about 3 different species of bacteria, the cell phones on average had about 10 to 12, and also had a lot worse types of bacteria on them.

This information is troubling because of all the detrimental bacteria that is literally, at the tips of our fingers. Since people are in close contact with their phones at almost all times, and often press their phones to their face our eyes, nose, and mouth are very susceptible to the bacteria that can enter the body. Especially since people often do not wash their hands to eat after touching their phone and actually eat while scrolling down an app on their phone. In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, “About 20 to 30 percent of viruses on a glass surface similar to a smart-phone screen will transfer to your fingertips.”

Although this information may seem shocking at first, it all makes sense. Cell phones are a very suitable habitat for bacteria because they are often warm when the phone is being used and it can be challenging to properly clean cell phones, since people often worry about breaking them. Not to mention, the notion of regularly sanitizing our phones and other electronic devises is not one that is engraved into our society, like washing our hands is.

Ultimately, the answer is to the original question is that our cell phones are not clean. In fact, according to Mashable, a news website, “each square inch of your cell phone contains roughly 25,000 germs, making it one of the filthiest things you come in contact with on a daily basis. That’s something to think about the next time you press your face to your phone.”

 

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