Terrifying Germs That Live on Your Smartphone

By Susan Baxter
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Want to hear something scary? Halloween's ghouls, ghosts and zombies have nothing on your smartphone. That little electronic device of yours can be downright frightening. Frighteningly germy, that is.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock/zentilia.

Think about it. We take our cell phones everywhere. They live in our pockets and purses, rubbing up against loose change and the receipt from the gas station. We use them almost everywhere, and set them on nearly any available surface – the kitchen counter, the table at a café, a park bench. We even share them with others. We pull them out not only to make calls, but also to share videos, play games, send emails and check on our Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Our smartphones are indeed our constant companions, and they are exposed to many bacteria.

Add to this frenzy of activity the fact that germs thrive in warm places. Not only does your smartphone generate its own heat, but it also gets some help from your own body heat by spending time in your hands and next to your mouth. Plus, not many people think to disinfect their phones. It's no wonder, then, that smartphones are prime breeding grounds for bacteria. Typical phones have more bacteria than your office workspace, and some have even more than a toilet seat. Now that's scarier than any chain-saw massacre or drowned girl crawling out of a TV.

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An article published in 2009 in the journal "Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials" details a study involving the phones of 200 hospital staff members. The researchers found that 94.5 percent of the phones were contaminated with some kind of bacteria, many of which were resistant to multiple antibiotics. By also testing the participants' hands, the researchers were able to show that a significant number of germs were transferred from their hands to their phones, and vice versa. In fact, about 30 percent of the bacteria on the phones ended up on the owner's hands.

Much of the disease-causing bacteria they found are transferred from person to person through touch, which means that once this bacteria is on your hands, you only have to then touch your eyes or nose for the bacteria to find an easy route into your body. This is especially frightening when you consider how often your phone hangs out only millimeters away from your face.

While older flip phones have more nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide in, the flat screens of modern smartphones are not immune to bacteria. Studies like the one mentioned above have found colonies of streptococcus, staphylococcus and diphtheroids on people's cell phones. And there's even been one reported case of a person contracting an MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) infection – a so-called flesh-eating bug – from a phone. Scary stuff.

For the most part, though, the bacteria that reside on your smartphone come from your own skin and mouth. It's other people's germs you have to worry about; think about that the next time you set your phone down in a public place or share your phone with someone. You're taking in their germs, as well as the bacteria they've picked up just by using their cell phones out in world. You're not only touching the phone, but also everyone and everything that phone has touched.

Some companies offer anti-microbial shells and screen protectors to guard against these scary germs, but you can keep your phone relatively germ free by simply remembering to clean it occasionally. Wipe it off with antibacterial wipes, swab it with some rubbing alcohol or even roll it around in your damp hands the next time you use hand sanitizer. With just a few simple steps, you can banish the boogiemen bacteria from your smartphone for good.

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