Is Your Phone Making You Sick?

  • 5 minutes 30 seconds
  • Wellbeing
  • Written by: Dr. Jatin Bhide
  • In today’s world, it’s not possible to go without cell phones and other electronic devices.  
  • Mobile phones are among the dirtiest gadgets and can negatively affect your health and immunity. 
  • Here’s how you can avoid cell phone cross contamination, along with easy tips to adopt cell phone hygiene.  

Do our phones get dirty?

Cell phones in the modern era are just like a necessary body part, although external, without which living is almost impossible. We carry these little things in our pockets or hands everywhere we go. They’re undoubtedly beneficial and make our lives much easier and convenient, such as finding new paths, recipes, health tips, and entertainment. But there’s a grey area in their use, as they can act as the parts and parcels of many harmful bacteria, which may have a negative impact on your health and immunity1. But how does that actually happen? Read on!

If put simply, they can just make their way to your body by travelling from places which you frequently use and can subsequently enter your food and other parts of the body. Especially when these contaminated cell phones are shared in the home or used by others at higher risk, such as kids, the elderly and those who are already sick or have a weaker immune system1,2.

Studies have found that bacteria can be found very frequently after touching raw poultry and then handling the devices during meal preparation. These contaminated cell phones can thus act as the source of entry for many bacteria in our body and cause infections. Reports also reveal that 8% of such pathogens remain active on our phones, thereby increasing the risk of cross-contamination while cooking. Another study found that an average of 17000 copies of bacteria can be found on a single cell phone. Can you imagine how big that number is? This can be a very crucial step in order to conserve our health1,2.

Mobile phones dirtier than toilet seat

The bathroom is considered the dirtiest thing in our household. However, studies suggest that our cell phone can house up to 10 times the bacteria found on a toilet seat. Yes, you read that right! While many of those maybe harmless, they’re a major concern for those working in the healthcare and foodservice industries, as it can lead to an illness bonanza3.

People often bring their bacteria-laden phones to places such as the bathroom and kitchen. Yes, it’s kind of a bad habit, but some cannot avoid it. Using in such places increases the risk of transferring bacteria from one place to another, also known as cross-contamination3. In foodservice industries, this can be a major public safety risk. Now, you gauge the importance, right?

Some normal ways bacteria get transferred on our phones are coughing near the phone and touching it with the same hands. Bacteria can also transfer from our cheeks and ears as well as from our oily fingers sometimes. Other surfaces include subway poles, sinks, toilets, and desks, which usually carry germs, which are then picked up by the hands touching them. Studies suggest that our hands transmit 80% of all infections. These bacteria get transferred easily to our mobile phones, which are handled often during the day3,4. Some common examples of bacteria found on phones are: Streptococcus, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Coli, Mold etc.

Although it also depends on the appropriate number of bacteria to cause a disease, it is still essential to avoid those entering our bodies. Moreover, they can also transfer from one person to another by a simple sharing of the phone. For instance, if a sick person coughs while talking on the phone and then hands it out to another, then the person receiving the phone could be exposed to the bacteria4.

There’s one more issue of inadequate handwashing, which increases the bacterial contamination of cell phones. A study found out that the participants missed washing their hands sufficiently 97% of the time. Since these bacteria remain on our phones for a longer time, it’s better to wash our hands before cooking or eating our food to avoid contamination1,2.

How do we avoid it?

Since we’ve talked about the why and how of mobile phones as bacteria carriers, it should be known how to avoid it. There are several important tips that we can utilize in order to keep cell phones clean. In the current times of coronavirus pandemic, you may already know what must be used to keep away any extra germs and bacteria. Yes, you’ve guessed it, right? It’s the sanitizer or disinfectant. They’ve been around for a long time, but ever since the pandemic, their use in our daily lives has increased a lot, and that also means using it frequently whenever we touch something that others may have touched5.

It is advised that washing hands or using a hand sanitizer before cooking or eating can help kill all the germs. That also includes after touching the phones, but that doesn’t mean you can touch it while eating or cooking. Try to avoid using them while doing such activities. If it’s unavoidable, then maintain a habit of washing or sanitizing your hands before you touch or eat your food to avoid any cross-contamination5.

Let’s read some simple daily tips about how to keep cell phones clean:

Use an antibacterial wipe to clean the outside of the phone, including the screen, be it a touch screen or not. One can also spray or damp a cloth with an alcohol-based cleaner to clean the phone properly. And yeah, make sure it contains 70% isopropyl. That’s because a ratio of 70% alcohol is regarded as highly important and is enough to kill any germs on the phone’s surface6.

Make sure you avoid getting any moisture into the ports or jacks of your phone. One insider tip is to ensure you don’t wipe away any manufacturer’s instructions while cleaning the phone.

Using the same instructions as above, you can also use it to clean the phone cases and accessories such as headphones, as it isn’t just the phone’s surfaces that get grimy.

Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully, and if it advises cleaning hard cases with soap and hot water, do it for at least 20 seconds. Don’t forget to wipe the cords too while you’re at it.

There are also some good options to invest in as antibacterial accessories with built-in protection from a bacterial attack. For e.g. some glass screen protectors in the market come with embedded silver ions designed to kill nearly all bacteria that may accumulate on the phone screen7.

And finally, if you may will, make sure you make sure this as a habit to clean your phone and accessories once a day. And if you feel like doing it more than that is OK too. Please make your own routine, such as wiping it down when you wash your hands, especially after returning home from a tough day at work outside.

Summary 

In conclusion, it can be honestly said that there’s a fine line between our mobile phones getting contaminated by our daily habits and other unavoidable circumstances. But again, it’s not rocket science that with certain precautions and important findings, it can be avoided to lead a much healthier life because after reading this piece, you may know what can happen if you don’t take care. But don’t worry, do follow those tips and keep living a healthy and bacteria free (only the bad ones) life.

References

Mark, D., Leonard, C., Breen, H., Graydon, R., O’Gorman, C., & Kirk, S. (2014). Mobile phones in clinical practice: reducing the risk of bacterial contamination. International journal of clinical practice, 68(9), 1060-1064. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcp.12448

Zakai, S., Mashat, A., Abumohssin, A., Samarkandi, A., Almaghrabi, B., Barradah, H., & Jiman-Fatani, A. (2016). Bacterial contamination of cell phones of medical students at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure, 4(3), 143-146. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmau.2015.12.004

Ustun, C., & Cihangiroglu, M. (2012). Health care workers’ mobile phones: a potential cause of microbial cross-contamination between hospitals and community. Journal of occupational and environmental hygiene, 9(9), 538-542. https://doi.org/10.1080/15459624.2012.697419

Kõljalg, S., Mändar, R., Sõber, T., Rööp, T., & Mändar, R. (2017). High level bacterial contamination of secondary school students’ mobile phones. Germs, 7(2), 73. https://dx.doi.org/10.18683%2Fgerms.2017.1111

Chang, A., Schnall, A. H., Law, R., Bronstein, A. C., Marraffa, J. M., Spiller, H. A., … & Svendsen, E. (2020). Cleaning and disinfectant chemical exposures and temporal associations with COVID-19—National poison data system, United States, January 1, 2020–March 31, 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69(16), 496.

Bhardwaj, N., Khatri, M., Bhardwaj, S. K., Sonne, C., Deep, A., & Kim, K. H. (2020). A review on mobile phones as bacterial reservoirs in healthcare environments and potential device decontamination approaches. Environmental research, 186, 109569. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2020.109569

Dickson, G. (2021). NBD Nanotechnologies Brings Antimicrobial Protection to Smartphone Screens. Information Display, 37(1), 6. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002%2Fmsid.1175

  • Mark, D., Leonard, C., Breen, H., Graydon, R., O’Gorman, C., & Kirk, S. (2014). Mobile phones in clinical practice: reducing the risk of bacterial contamination. International journal of clinical practice, 68(9), 1060-1064. https://doi.org/10.1111/ijcp.12448

    Zakai, S., Mashat, A., Abumohssin, A., Samarkandi, A., Almaghrabi, B., Barradah, H., & Jiman-Fatani, A. (2016). Bacterial contamination of cell phones of medical students at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure, 4(3), 143-146. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmau.2015.12.004

    Ustun, C., & Cihangiroglu, M. (2012). Health care workers’ mobile phones: a potential cause of microbial cross-contamination between hospitals and community. Journal of occupational and environmental hygiene, 9(9), 538-542. https://doi.org/10.1080/15459624.2012.697419

    Kõljalg, S., Mändar, R., Sõber, T., Rööp, T., & Mändar, R. (2017). High level bacterial contamination of secondary school students’ mobile phones. Germs, 7(2), 73. https://dx.doi.org/10.18683%2Fgerms.2017.1111

    Chang, A., Schnall, A. H., Law, R., Bronstein, A. C., Marraffa, J. M., Spiller, H. A., … & Svendsen, E. (2020). Cleaning and disinfectant chemical exposures and temporal associations with COVID-19—National poison data system, United States, January 1, 2020–March 31, 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69(16), 496.

    Bhardwaj, N., Khatri, M., Bhardwaj, S. K., Sonne, C., Deep, A., & Kim, K. H. (2020). A review on mobile phones as bacterial reservoirs in healthcare environments and potential device decontamination approaches. Environmental research, 186, 109569. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2020.109569

    Dickson, G. (2021). NBD Nanotechnologies Brings Antimicrobial Protection to Smartphone Screens. Information Display, 37(1), 6. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002%2Fmsid.1175

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