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Do Your Kids Use Your Smartphone? Careful, It’s Dirtier than You Think
  • Parents of young kids are sticklers for hygiene, and understandably so. But while our instinct is to clean up after our children, we may be overlooking this item we always use that, as it turns out, attracts plenty of germs: our smartphones.

    Think about it—you use your phone and take it with you almost everywhere. From your daily commute, your downtime at home, and even your trips to the bathroom, your phone is most likely in your hands. That gives germs and bacteria plenty of opportunities to move from your fingers to your phone.

    “Because people are always carrying their cell phones even in situations where they would normally wash their hands before doing anything, cell phones do tend to get pretty gross,” says Emily Martin, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, in an interview with Time.

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    According to a 2011 study done by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, fecal matter can be found on one out of every six smartphones. A more recent study found more than 17,000 bacterial gene copies on the phones of high school students in the United States.

    In 2016, Caroline Kee, a writer for Buzzfeed, decided to surprise her co-workers with a swab test to see what kind of germs they were carrying around on their phones. She also wanted to find out how their lifestyle or phone habits might affect the type of germs their devices were carrying.

    She sent the samples to a microbiology lab at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. As expected, the phones were “thriving” with germs, according to Kee’s article on Buzzfeed.

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    Will these germs in my phone make me sick?

    According to Dr. Susan Whittier, who conducted the tests at Columbia University, most of the phones contained harmless bacteria that can be found in the skin, mouth, nose, and the environment. However, some of the phones also had pathogens — a type of germ that can cause infections and diseases. It includes Staphylococcus aureus, a kind of bacteria behind skin infections, pneumonia, food poisoning, toxic shock syndrome, and blood poisoning, according to a report by Business Insider.

    It also contained fecal organisms like E. coli, which can cause serious food poisoning and even death. Other phones tested positive for a type of yeast called Candida albicans, which has the potential to be pathogenic and cause things like thrush or yeast infections in people who have a weak immune system, especially babies, according to Whittier.

    While these kinds of results are alarming, Whittier said that “the amount of pathogenic bacteria on the phones was still relatively low and it doesn’t have much risk for causing disease in healthy, young adults.”

    However, this information should still make you think twice about cleaning your phone — stat! — especially if your kids are going to be using them. Eighty percent of common infections are spread through the hands, according to the US Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.

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    How do I clean my phone?

    Antibacterial wipes and disinfectants might damage and scratch your phone. Whittier suggests using a combination of 60% water and 40% rubbing alcohol. Spray it on a microfiber cloth and gently wipe down the screen and case. To clean corners and around ports, use lint-free foam instead of Q-tips, suggests The New York Times. Be careful — Kee says to do this only once-a-week as overuse of the solution can cause a slight damage to your screen’s coating.

    If you want to take it to the next level, UV sterilizers, which use ultraviolet light to kills viruses and bacteria, can also be effective in disinfecting your phones. These sterilizers can be used to disinfect a number of things, including your baby’s feeding bottles, toys, keys, the remote control, and even your clothes.

    You should also minimize your phone’s exposure to bacteria. Start by avoiding taking your phone inside the bathroom or using it while you eat. And don’t forget to cultivate the habit of washing your hands with soap and water — experts say it’s still the best vaccine against viruses and illnesses.

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