NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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Could Your Cellphone or Tablet Be a Germ Catcher?

cellphone, tablet, germ catcher, smartphones

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Community Wellness

Smartphones, tablets and other gadgets are used widely. Or, perhaps you've used the screens at restaurants that allow you to dispense soda, play games or order food. You also may have noticed people texting while waiting in lines in public restrooms.

Think about this, not everyone washes their hands the recommended 20 seconds. We all use the same door handles in public restrooms.

Unfortunately, phones and other electronic gadgets can be "germ catchers." According to research conducted at the University of Arizona, cellphones may carry 10 times the amount of bacteria as found on toilet seats.

Several researchers have explored the cleanliness of phones and other devices. In a 2017 study reported in the journal Germs, researchers performed microbiological testing on 27 phones used by students. The researchers noted bacteria, including potential disease-causing organisms such as staph. Males and females had contaminated phones. When you touch the surface of a digital device 1/3 of the germs can end up on your fingertips!

The researchers also noted the presence of E. faecalis. Yes, that sounds like feces for a reason. This type of bacteria is associated with the human gastrointestinal tract. Its presence probably indicates failure to wash hands properly after using the restroom and before using a phone.

Cellphones can spread bacteria and viruses. However, you obviously can't dunk your phone or other device in a sanitizer because you could damage your phone seriously. To clean your phone, many references suggest filling a small spray bottle with a 50/50 mixture of distilled water and rubbing alcohol (70 percent isopropyl alcohol). Unplug and/or turn off the phone first. Spritz with the mixture, then wipe with a microfiber cloth to avoid scratching the screen. Consult your manufacturer's guide to see if this is an acceptable approach for your phone or other device.

Wiping down the screens you use in your kitchen or during eating can help safeguard your health. When we can see dirt, dust and food debris, we can clean it with hot, soapy water. However, sometimes "clean," shiny surfaces are not necessarily sanitary. Sanitizing takes cleaning a step further and reduces the number of bacteria on surfaces.

No one enjoys feeling under the weather, so what is an easy step to take to help prevent colds and the flu?

Be sure to wash your hands regularly! Lather up for at least 20 seconds. Consider using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when a sink is not nearby. The sanitizer should contain at least 60 percent alcohol. You can use a hand sanitizer if hand-washing facilities are not readily available, but be sure to use enough hand sanitizer and rub your hands until the alcohol evaporates.

Studies have found that people touch their face with their hands more than 600 times a day. Most of us don’t even realize we are doing it.  That leads us to another surprising statistic: The average person gets more than 200 colds in their lifetime. That translates to five years of sneezing and coughing!

Source: Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist

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