Healthy living

One in six mobile phones have faecal germs

One in six mobile phones have faecal germs 'Nationwide problem'

One in six mobile phones in Britain is contaminated with faecal matter, according to new research.

Experts say the most likely reason for the potentially harmful bacteria festering on so many gadgets is people failing to wash their hands properly with soap after going to the toilet.

The findings of the UK-wide study by scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London, also reveal a tendency among Britons to lie about their hygiene habits.

Although 95 per cent of people said they washed their hands with soap where possible, 92 per cent of phones and 82 per cent of hands had bacteria on them.

Some 16 per cent of hands and 16 per cent of phones were found to harbour E. coli – bacteria of a faecal origin. Harmful E. coli (Escherichia coli) is associated with stomach upsets and has been implicated in serious cases of food poisoning such as the fatal O157 outbreak in Germany in June.

The researchers carried out the study to mark Global Handwashing Day.

Researchers travelled to 12 cities and took 390 samples from mobile phones and hands which were analysed in the lab to find out the type and number of germs lurking there. Participants were also asked a series of questions about their handwashing habits.

They found the largest proportion of contaminated phones was in Birmingham (41%) while Londoners had the highest proportion of E. coli present on their hands (28%).

However, actual levels of bacteria increased the further north the scientists went; the dirtiest city being Glasgow, where average bacterial levels on phones and hands were found to be nine times higher than in Brighton, reinforcing a North/South divide. The scientists also found those who had bacteria on their hands were three times as likely to have bacteria on their phone.

Faecal bacteria can survive on hands and surfaces for hours at a time, especially in warmer temperatures away from sunlight, and are easily transferred by touch to door handles, food and even mobile phones. From there, the germs can be picked up by other people.

Dr Ron Cutler of Queen Mary said: "Our analysis revealed some interesting results from around the UK. While some cities did much better than others, the fact that E. coli was present on phones and hands in every location shows this is a nationwide problem. People may claim they wash their hands regularly but the science shows otherwise."

This article was published on Fri 14 October 2011

Image © edbockstock -

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