The dirty truth about using smartphones in the bathroom

Picking up your phone on the way to the bathroom is a literal dirty habit. Cell phones are dirtier than most toilet seats. Microbiologist Primrose Freestone uncovers the truth about germs and smartphones in the bathroom, from The Conversation.

We take him everywhere, to bed, to the toilet, in the metro… For many, consulting “him” is the first action of the day. This is of course the cell phone. Over 90% of the world’s population owns or uses one todayand many of us could not live without it…

However useful it may be, this companion is not exempt from all reproach – particularly in terms of health. Concerns with their use generally relate to the distraction they can cause while drivingthe possible effects of RF exposure or the addiction they can cause. Another type of risk is often overlooked: that of microbial infection! He is however very real.

Where do these germs that colonize them come from? A survey carried out in the United Kingdom in 2019 revealed that most people use their phones in the toilet. It is therefore not surprising to discover that analyzes revealed that the precious machines were dirtier than toilet seats.

We also regularly give our phones to children (who aren’t really known for their hygiene) to play with. We also eat while using them and we put them on all kinds of (dirty) surfaces… We talk (sputter) on them, including when we are sick. These are all situations that can allow microbes to settle there permanently, and to find the food they will need to survive.

It is estimated that people touch their phones hundredsor even thousands times a day. And while many of us regularly wash our hands after using the bathroom, cooking, cleaning, shopping or gardening, it’s much more unlikely that we’ll even consider washing our hands. every time we touch it.

But given how contaminated phones can be with pathogens of all kinds, maybe it’s time to think more about their hygiene

Phones contaminated with hordes of bacteria and viruses

Our hands are constantly picking up bacteria and viruses, and are recognized as a common means pour get an infection. The same goes for the phones we touch. Many works have studied the fact that they can be colonized by microorganisms and confirmed the possibility that they may be contaminated by cohorts of fungi, bacteria and other potentially pathogenic microorganisms.

Among the most commonly found in bacteria are E. coliwhich causes diarrhea (and which, by the way, comes from human feces), Staphylococcuswhich infect the skin, Actinobacteriawhich can cause tuberculosis and diphtheria, Citrobacterresponsible for painful urinary tract infections, and Enterococcus, known to cause meningitis. Of the Klebsiella, Micrococcus, Proteus, Pseudomonas et Streptococcus have also been identified and all may have adverse effects on human health. Analyzes carried out on around fifty telephones had revealed the presence of more than 7000 different types of bacteria.

Do you take your phone to the toilet?  The microbes say thank you.  // Source: Canva
Do you take your phone to the toilet? The microbes say thank you. // Source: Canva

Quite problematically, it appears that many of these pathogenic bacteria present are often resistant to antibiotics, which means that they cannot be treated with conventional treatments. This is concerning, as they can cause potentially serious skin, intestinal and respiratory infections.

There is always the solution to clean your laptop with antibacterial wipes or alcohol… but it is established that it can always be recolonized afterwards. To have any effectiveness, the disinfection must therefore be a regular habit.

But bacteria aren’t the only unwanted guests on our phones: there are viruses too…because the plastic they contain can harbor and transmit viruses. Some, like the common cold virus, can live on hard plastic surfaces for a week. Others, such as SARS-CoV-2 (responsible for Covid-19), rotavirus (a highly infectious gastric virus that usually affects babies and young children), influenza virus and norovirus (causing serious respiratory and intestinal infections) may persist in an infectious form for several days.

How to clean your phone?

From the start of the Covid pandemic, national public health agencies published guidelines to promote the cleaning and disinfection of mobile phones – which, just like door handles, ATMs and elevator buttonshave been identified as reservoirs of infection.

In particular, concerns have been expressed about their potential role in the spread of pathogens in hospitals and health facilitiesas well as in the schools.

So many arguments that support the idea that cleaning your laptop should become a regular habit. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission even recommends a daily cleaning of the telephone, among other devices, in particular because we are still in a period of active pandemic for the Covid and that this virus is resistant, able to survive several days on surfaces that are nevertheless hostile a priori such as plastic.

Use disinfectant or antiseptic wipes, or alcohol-based sprays, daily if possible. They must contain at least 70% alcohol to effectively sanitize cases and touchscreens – and don’t forget the edges and the back! If it is in a shell, remember to take it out regularly to clean it completely.

The silicone, the plastic and even the leather of the shells fully support the passage of slightly soapy hot water (to be rinsed afterwards) using a microfiber cloth or a clean soaked cloth.

Do not spray disinfectants directly and keep liquids away from connection points or other phone openings. Absolutely avoid using bleach or abrasive cleansers, detergents, etc., which can damage the case and screen. And wash your hands thoroughly after you finish.

Thinking more about how (and where) you use your phone will help you limit its colonization by germs… and the risk of being infected later by your own cell phone. So there are a few simple habits that can be relevant. When you are not at home, for example, keep your phone in your pocket or in your bag. Write your to-do list on paper instead of constantly checking your notes or apps. Touch your phone with clean hands – washed with soap and water or sanitized with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer…

There are other things you can do to prevent your phone from becoming a source of pathogens: Don’t share it with others if you’re sick and contagious and haven’t disinfected it first. If children are allowed to play with it, disinfect it as soon as possible afterwards.

Get in the habit of putting your phone away when not in use, then sanitizing or washing your hands. You can also disinfect your charger from time to time, since you are there…

The conversation logo

Primrose FreestoneSenior Lecturer in Clinical Microbiology, University of Leicester

This article is republished from The Conversation sous licence Creative Commons. Lire l’article original.

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