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Where Germs Hide on Your Technology

By Lisa Collier Cool Oct 16, 2013 16 Recommend


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by Lisa Collier Cool

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Your smartphone hosts everything from phone numbers to photographs to potentially harmful hordes of germs. A group of undergraduate science students captured those germs on film, turning a photographic spotlight on dirty mobile devices and the bacteria that live there. As part of a Practical and Biomedical Bacteriology class, students from the University of Surrey imprinted their mobile phones into petri dishes. After three days, they photographed the microbial communities that had bloomed there. For the most part, the students found relatively harmless germs that are found on healthy human skin. Unfortunately, they also identified potentially harmful strains of bacteriaincluding Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that can cause skin infections, respiratory illness, and food poisoning. Germs found on the phones likely travelled there on hands, suggests Simon Park, PhD, the instructor who led this classroom experiment. He explains in an interview with Wired.co.uk, The ecological niche on the body for Staphylococcus aureus is the nostrils, so a furtive pick of the nose, and quick text after, and you

end up with this pathogen on your smartphone.

Some phones are contaminated with feces

Research suggests that nose picking is not the only vice to blame for filthy phones. Poor hand washing habits also contribute to contamination of mobile devices and other tools. In fact, one in six mobile phones in the United Kingdom is home to faecal bacteria, according to a 2011 study conducted by scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London. The researchers analyzed 390 samples collected from mobile phones and hands across the United Kingdom. Although many participants claimed to wash their hands on a regular basis, 82 percent of hands and 92 percent of phones tested positive for bacteria leading the researchers to believe that participants may have lied about their hygiene habits. When it came to faecal bacteria, the researchers found traces of Escherichia coli (E. coli) a bacterium that can cause serious stomach upset on 16 percent of phones and 16 percent of hands. Compared to those with clean hands, participants with dirty digits were three times more likely to have bacteria-ridden phones highlighting the importance of good hand washing habits. 11 Dirtiest Places in Your House

Touchscreen tablets may be dirtier than toilets

In a new hygiene investigation conducted by a British consumer group, analysts found that eight out of 30 touchscreen tablets tested positive for high-risk levels of enterobacteria, which include E. coli and other pathogenic bugs. Those tablets yielded more than 1,000 units of enterobacteria per swab, compared to only 10 units per swab collected from an office toilet. In fact, the group found that toilet seats, flush levers, and washroom door handles which

are cleaned regularly in most office environments all had lower bacteria counts than touchscreen tablets, computer keyboards, and phones.

Computer keyboards can hold harmful pathogens

In hospitals, computer keyboards should be disinfected daily, recommend researchers from the Department of Hospital Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Health Care System. The researchers tested more than 50 percent of computers in one hospital. They found that every keyboard tested positive for coagulase-negative staphylococcus bacteria, which can cause serious infections in some patients. Some keyboards also housed other potentially pathogenic microbes, including species of Enterococcus that can trigger urinary tract infections, meningitis, and other illnesses. 5 Hidden Toxins in Your Home

Stay safe with good hygiene habits

In the future, technological tools may come equipped with disease-fighting features. At the MIT Technology Reviews recent Mobile Summit, the Senior Vice President and Operations Chief of Staff at Corning spoke about the companys latest version of a product called Gorilla Glass. Treated with an anti-bacterial coating, it can reportedly kill drug-resistant bacteria and viruses, reducing the build-up of potentially harmful germs on touchscreen devices. Unfortunately, it is not yet commercially available. In the meantime, practising good hygiene remains crucial to keeping our tools clean and bodies healthy. In fact, the simple act of washing hands with soap could save a million lives around the world each year, according to the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW), a coalition of international stakeholders with an interest in disease prevention. For best hand-washing results, wet your hands, cover them with soap, and carefully scrub all surfaces, nooks, and crannies for about twenty seconds before

rinsing them with water. Ordinary is soap is just as effective at removing germs as antibacterial versions. Some researchers have expressed concern that antibacterial products may be linked the evolution of superbugs and antibiotic resistance. When it comes to cleaning devices, a tissue moistened with simple saline solution may be just as effective as disinfectant wipes. Researchers from the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta found that wiping surfaces three or more times reduced the bacterial load by 88 percent on average, regardless of the type of wipe used. Before using any cleaner on your computer, touchscreen tablet, or smartphone, check with the manufacturer to learn if it could damage any components. Unplug the device before cleaning it and avoid getting water in ports or other openings.