We’re all taught from a young age (or so I hope) to wash our hands to remove the harmful bacteria that can make us sick. Signs line the bathroom walls in the restaurants we bring our families, reminding the individuals that handle our food to wash their hands. Us moms carry hand sanitizer as we carte our sweet little germ balls to school and ballet. We wash our dishes and wipe our counters clean and maintain proper hygiene all in an attempt to keep healthy and prevent the spread of germs and disease.
We’re washing our clothes, our bodies, our children, our homes and dishware. We’re forgetting something…What about our electronic devices that go everywhere we go (and research reveals EVERYWHERE where we go).
According to Time magazine in an article published August 2017, your phone is “10 times dirtier than a toilet seat.” With a total of 81% of Americans owning a smartphone, that’s a lot of toilet seats.
So, let’s all admit this right now you know you’re scrolling your Facebook feed, pinning recipes and playing Subway Surfer while sitting on the throne during your bathroom breaks. That phone is nearby while you prepare meals, it’s in your toddlers adorable (yet likely disgusting) hands while you change their diaper blowouts. While you prepare and eat food, where is it? You hopefully washed your hands. But you go right on contaminating your clean hands by touching this object, this extension of yourself, before, during and after whatever dirty deed. If you’re like me, when you’re done cooking your phone is covered in flour and oil and whatever other messy substance you’re cooking with because that’s what you’ve used for your recipe. I’ll admit right here that I’ve taken it from the counter and hastily wiped it on my pants. I’m a nurse and a mom who takes hygiene very seriously but I’ve neglected this very simple component that potentially negates the other steps I’ve taken to maintain a healthy home. I want to avoid those sleepless boogery and pukey nights like the plague they are and yet, I carry this disgusting thing around with me which is likely invaded by staph and other bacteria, fungi and viruses.
In a world where electronics have become such an extension of ourselves, we fail to provide this extension with the same amount of care and caution given to our bodies and other objects in our homes, offices, etc. considering “Americans are viewing their smartphones more often than ever before, on average 52 times per day.”
Because I’m a nurse and I’m close friends with a chronic illness sufferer with a compromised immune system, I need to take this topic to the hospital. We’ve all had to go there at one point anyway. And if we are lucky enough to have avoided it, most of us have a loved one that requires that type of attention from time to time. As we enter the hospital, the mecca for disease (just because that is precisely where the diseased people go), the risk must increase exponentially. Over the last decade, HAI’s or healthcare-acquired infections have come into focus as a problem that needs better control. “The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention identifies that nearly 1.7 million hospitalized patients annually acquire HCAIs while being treated for other health issues and that more than 98,000 patients (one in 17) die due to these. Several studies suggest that simple infection-control procedures such as cleaning hands with an alcohol-based hand rub can help prevent HCAIs and save lives, reduce morbidity, and minimize health care costs.“ This has to include the phones we carry but it does not. Just as cell phones have become a necessary part of our daily lives, they are a necessary element for timely and efficient means of communication and research in the hospital. According to a study published in the Journal of Advanced Biomedical Research, 386 phones (of doctors, staff and public) were swabbed and analyzed, 316 tested positive for bacterial pathogens. Many of these pathogens can park themselves on your device and live up to a few months. Disturbing, to say the least, imagine these pathogens collecting on the device of your doctor or nurse then traveling room to room, as they make notes on their phones between rooms then shake your hand or worse. She helps herself to a pump of sanitizer from time to time and uses soap and water when indicated by the CDC and guidelines of the facility but is this happening each and every time she touches her phone? I really hope so.
These little buggies will not only make a generally healthy person ill but could pose catastrophic to a cancer patient or premature infant or any other compromised person as it settles into an incision or warm moist tubing. When I worked in various healthcare facilities, there were days that I didn’t wear my scrubs into my house and never my shoes, but my phone was rarely wiped down. From what I’m reading, I am not alone. “90% of healthcare personnel never clean their devices.”
“Microbial contamination of mobile phones and their increased use among the HCWs pose a significant epidemiological risk to the public. Simple measures such as proper hand hygiene practices and regular decontamination of mobile phones with alcohol wipes may reduce the risk of HAI’s caused by these devices.” The above statistics were easy to find and articles like this are plenty. But I can’t find any information from the CDC recommending best practices for phone hygiene. The first person to develop a way to wash our phones with soap and water when we wash our hands will be a wealthy person. Most products designed to eliminate viruses, bacteria and fungi will harm your electronics. According to Apple, “ To clean your iPhone, unplug all cables and turn it off. Use a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth. Avoid getting moisture in openings. Don’t use window cleaners, household cleaners, compressed air, aerosol sprays, solvents, ammonia, or abrasives to clean your iPhone. ” So basically, you may render your dear phone useless if you use the chemicals needed to breakdown the disease causing pathogens living there.
So what do we do about it? Awareness is key, drawing attention to it as an issue is helpful. Be mindful of where you are using your cell phone. For example, one would assume that the bathroom would be a particularly bad place to maintain a cleanly mobile device. Continue to maintain proper hand hygiene as the hands are the vehicles germs use to find a way to your phone. There are wipes out there but they may damage your phone. You’ll have to decide what the greater risk is and do your due diligence to carefully clean it especially if you work in a medical facility. Be mindful of when and why you are using it, possibly exercising limitations to when it’s absolutely necessary when around obvious contagion especially in the hospital. The healthcare industry is spending billions of dollars a year on infection management. We need to be especially mindful of those suffering from chronic illness and their compromised immune systems. Until we find a better way to clean our electronic fifth limb, we need to keep our phones away from the portals in which these little bugs travel and maybe start treating our phones like your toothbrush, a single person use, personal item. Obviously, that means keeping it away from their face, cover open incisions and keep external venous and gastric lines secure with a CareAline sleeve or wrap. Simple, low-cost means like this will give our patient’s immune systems another line of defense. Continue to educate patients and their families on best practices. And for everyone else, maybe we can go back to reading the back of the shampoo bottle when we’re in the bathroom and save that social media post for later.
*2 “Mobile Fact Sheet – Pew Internet.” 12 Jun. 2019, https://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheet/mobile/. Accessed 1 Aug. 2019.
*3 “Global mobile consumer trends: Second edition | Deloitte US.” https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/global-mobile-consumer-trends.html. Accessed 1 Aug. 2019.
*4 “Health care-associated infections – an overview – NCBI – NIH.” 15 Nov. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6245375/. Accessed 1 Aug. 2019.
*5 “Mobile phones: Reservoirs for the transmission of … – NCBI.” 27 Jul. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26322292. Accessed 1 Aug. 2019.
*6 “Health care workers’ germy smartphones could spread infections..” 11 Jan. 2019, https://slate.com/technology/2019/01/health-care-workers-germs-smartphones-infections.html. Accessed 1 Aug. 2019.
*7 “Mobile phones: Reservoirs for the transmission of nosocomial … – NCBI.” 27 Jul. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4549928/. Accessed 1 Aug. 2019.
*8 “Cleaning your iPhone – Apple Support.” 20 Sep. 2018, https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207123. Accessed 1 Aug. 2019.