There’s often no better way for someone to pass the time in the loo than to whip out a cell phone and browse through their Facebook news feed or catch up on Twitter. Those few minutes of privacy – and relief- can be time to send those texts we’ve been putting off, but new research finds that there is a definite health risk to using a phone in the bathroom.
A new study from the NED Journal of Research – called Mobile Phones: Reservoir of Infectious Diseases in University Premises – ran tests on 367 cell phones belonging to students, staff and faculty on a university campus and found that a shocking number, 98.6%, were contaminated with some type of bacteria.
Mind the Science Gap summed up the results:
- 98.6% of phones were contaminated in some way.
- Coliform bacteria were present on 69% of phones. Example: E. coli from some form of fecal matter, which may cause an upset stomach.
- Corynebacterium diphtheria was present on 51% of phones. Translation: causes diphtheria, an upper respiratory tract illness, which commonly includes a sore throat, mild fever and swelling of the tonsils, pharynx, or nasal cavity.
- Coagulase negative staphylococcus was present on 42.2% of phones. Translation: commonly found on skin and in mucus membranes, and is relatively harmless, except for those with weak immune systems.
So, what are the possible explanations for this bacteria being present?
- Not washing hands after using the restroom.
- Phone use while sick (breathing, coughing, sneezing).
- Setting the phone on contaminated surfaces (kitchen counter, bathroom counter).
- Touching an infected surface, then touching the phone (a desk, your nose, a door handle).
- Rarely or never disinfecting the phone.
- Using the device continuously for over 2 hours.
- Heat from hands and the phone itself increases bacteria, which already has the ability to live for months.
The most obvious solution is to not take the phone into the bathroom, but with the separation anxiety so many of us experience that’s easier said than done. Disinfectant wipes should do the trick along with not sharing a phone with someone who’s clearly sick, although hand washing is probably the best way to avoid turning one’s cell phone into a portable disease magnet.