Pardon Me, But is That Poop on Your Phone?
London researchers discover that one in six cellular phones in Britain carries fecal matter, indicating that individuals are not properly washing their hands after using the restroom.
Hand-washing after using the restroom is a low-tech but highly effective method to clean both fecal matter and harmful bacteria that transfers from one’s derriere to one’s hand when wiping with tissue paper.
Scientists evaluated 390 samples from hands and cell phones in 12 cities across Great Britain. The scientists also asked people to describe their handwashing habits. Clearly people remember what they were taught as small children and they know they should wash their hands. In fact, 95% of British people surveyed by scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary University of London informed the researchers that they wash their hands with soap and water as often as possible. Unfortunately, when the scientists tested these individuals’ hands and phones, they discovered proof of sloppy or nonexistent handwashing.
A shocking 16% of cell phones and people’s hands tested positive for Escherichia coli, or E. coli, a dangerous type of intestinal bacteria. E. coli causes food poisoning, gastroenteritis and even death. This bacteria is transmitted through the rectum on stool when a person has a bowel movement. When the person cleans himself, the bacteria then contaminates his hand and anything his hand touches from then on until he thoroughly washes with soap and warm water or uses a waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
E. coli is one of many harmful bacteria that is transmitted by unwashed hands. Other dangerous germs that can be killed with proper handwashing include influenza and rotavirus. Over three million children younger than five years of age die annually from these types of bacteria and viruses—deaths that can be reduced or prevented by proper handwashing.
In addition to children, other vulnerable populations suffer when exposed to bacteria and viruses that can be destroyed by proper handwashing. In particular, pregnant women, the elderly, and patients who have cancer and HIV are at high risk of contracting illnesses when exposed to these germs. Healthcare workers and family members must take extra precautions to thoroughly wash their hands to protect these high-risk populations.
October 15th is Global Handwashing Day. The researchers chose this study to highlight the importance of regular and thorough handwashing. In addition to washing your hands after using the restroom, you should always wash your hands before handling food for cooking and before eating. Wash your hands after handling raw poultry, beef, fish and eggs to reduce the chances of contaminating your kitchen with harmful bacteria. And, it appears, you should wash your hands after borrowing someone else’s cell phone.
London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Contamination of UK Mobile Phones and Hands Revealed; October 14, 2011