What is small, can be found in almost everyone’s pocket and could be making you sick? Your cellphone. Most people wash their hands regularly and do their best to stay healthy, but many may not realize that cellphones are a major harborer of illness-causing germs.
The germs on cellphones can come from a variety of places. People often set their phones on desks in classrooms that have haven’t been cleaned. They put their phones in pockets or purses to bounce around loose change, a well-known source of germs. Then, people put their phones up next to their faces, inviting germs and potential illnesses into their bodies.
In an Oct. 2012 Wall Street Journal article by Caroline Porter, researchers from HML Labs of Muncie, Ind. collected and tested eight random cell phones from a Chicago office. Dr. Donald Hendrickson, president of HML Labs, said the results were "pretty bad." The team discovered that all of the phones contained coliforms, a bacteria indicating fecal contamination.
The researchers hypothesized that cellphones were more likely to contain larger amounts of germs and bacteria that other common items due to the fact that they are taken everywhere and are handled physically so often. Michael Schmidt, professor and vice chairman of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina who was interviewed for the Wall Street Journal article, maintained that the "greasy smears" left on smartphone screens feed many forms of bacteria.
Many people simply aren’t conscious of the potential health hazard caused by cellphones, said Julie Gibbs, assistant director of health promotions and nutrition counseling at Lafene Health Center.
"I have never really thought about my phone picking up a lot [of germs],” said Crystian Torres, junior in criminology and psychology.
Gibbs noted that cellphones are not often thought of as carrying and transmitting germs and bacteria, as some other objects are.
“This is probably not something that students think about," Gibbs said. "We think about things like money and door knobs that can spread germs."
Gibbs described the types of illnesses that can be spread through cellphones or similar items.
“The common cold, upper respiratory infections and especially the flu,” Gibbs said. “We are seeing a lot of students come in with flu symptoms this season.”
Gibbs stressed that the best way to avoid getting bogged down with the flu is to get a flu vaccination, but that being aware of potential germs is also important.
Yet some students aren’t too worried about the risk.
“Germs are everywhere," said Connor Hunt, sophomore in public relations and advertising. "Even if I cleaned my phone, I would still come across germs on a daily basis."
Luckily, for those who are concerned about the germs on their phones, cleaning options are available. An online company called Wireless Wipes has developed a cleaning wipe for “cell phones, PDA’s, and computers.” The wipes, which sell for $2.95 per pouch in a variety of scents, are described as "a highly absorbent alcohol based sanitizer that eliminates or dramatically reduces your exposure to potentially harmful germs.”
UV disinfectant wands are also available for people seeking a chemical-free option for cleaning their phones. These wands have been proven to kill germs on a variety of surfaces without actually touching them. While they are on the more expensive side of the spectrum, anywhere from $60.00-$200.00, the wands emit UV-C light rays that kill all of the germs. The light rays are safe for nearly any surface and can be used to disinfect other household items as well.
While it is difficult to determine whether or not cellphones play a large part in the spread of illness, it is scientifically proven that they harbor many germs that have the potiential to cause illness.
As with anything that is exposed to germ-infested environments, passed around from person to person and rarely cleaned, cellphones are one of many sources of germs and illnesses around campus. In order to decrease the amount of germs on your cellphone, it is critical to regularly disinfect your phone and wash your hands often, even during non-peak illness seasons.