Cellphones attract harmful bacteria

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Phones are constantly being set down, picked up and passed around. And living on those cellphones are thousands of different types of bacteria, according to BYU microbiology professor Richard Robison.

Robison said in microbiology, a cellphone is referred to as a fomite, a nonliving object capable of carrying infectious organisms. He said microbes, which include disease-causing bacteria, can be transferred from object to object.

“Depending on the microbes that are on a phone, they could be harmful to anyone,” Robison said.

PhoneSoap, a Lindon, Utah, company created by BYU students, sells a product that cleans phones with a UV light. The company’s research found cellphones are 18 times dirtier than the door handle of a public restroom.

BYU graduate and PhoneSoap operations manager Kelli Sprunt said the germs on our phones come from a variety of sources.

“People are spreading harmful germs constantly, whether it’s coming from restrooms, public transportation or your home,” Sprunt said. “Basically, everything your hand touches will get back to your phone, door handles, toilets, etc.”

Phone Soap via Facebook
This PhoneSoap graphic identifies various ways phones can be contaminated with bacteria. (PhoneSoap)

Robison said some microbes do not survive for long because they dry out and become harmless, but some dried-out microbes can still be harmful to humans.

“People should be most concerned about viral agents that can be transferred from one person to another that may cause a significant infection,” Robison said. “Some are much more harmful to kids such as RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus).”

Sprunt said one in six phones her company tests is contaminated with E. coli bacteria. The E. coli can latch onto a phone brought into the bathroom or from others who come in contact with the phone.

“(These germs) can make us sick,” Sprunt said. “We’ve tested phones that have bacteria like E. coli and salmonella on them. Our dirty phones can also cause acne too.”

Sprunt said PhoneSoap’s UV-C light technology kills 99.99 percent of bacteria, which is more effective more than just wiping off fingerprints or smudges with a cloth or tissue.

Robison said using an alcohol wipe instead of a cloth or tissue kills organisms that are significant threats.

A study done by The Which? Group on 30 tablets, 30 phones and 30 office keyboards showed bacteria clings to those devices. The company said many people take their phones and other small devices with them to the bathroom in a hurry, and if they forget to wash their hands, bacteria from the bathroom is transferred to their hands and cellphones.

The study recommends people wipe down their phones with disinfectant wipes.

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