A day designed to encourage awareness of proper handwashing procedures.
A cluster of the faecal bacteria E. coli. Photo by Eric Erbe, digital colorization by Christopher Pooley via wikimedia commons.
There are two separate incarnations of E. coli: good and evil. Good E. coli are the harmless little bugs that are used for general laboratory research, but some E. coli, particularly the strains naturally found in the human digestive tract, can be very dangerous if they stray from the part of the body they are meant to be found in.
Sampling from major cities, the data for the average number of bacteria found on phones looks like an advertisement by the Southern Snob tourist board. London, Brighton, Cardiff and Exeter have the lowest, while Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle show the highest bacterial load. This is the load of all bacteria though, many of which will be completely harmless, and the data for the presence of E. coli looks surprisingly different. Birmingham has the dubious distinction of winning, with 41% of sampled phones containing faecal E. coli while Glasgow (5%) and Newcastle (9%) come off relatively lightly [link to all data below the article].
Surprisingly enough the city with the lowest percentage of E. coli on phones is Carlisle, which also has a relatively low bacterial load. For those readers who don’t live in the UK, or are geographically challenged, there’s a map below:
Hands are often not washed correctly, with soap and water, nearly enough times during the day. And as humans in general are bacteria-attracting machines it is hardly surprising that 95% of people were found with bacteria on their hands.
Washing hands is important, vitally important if you’re a doctor, nurse, or schoolteacher, but the number of people who get E. coliinfections from their mobile phones in negligible. The largest E. coli scare of recent times happened because of bean-sprouts. That would not have been prevented by anyone washing their hands (although washing the bean-sprouts would, admittedly, have helped a bit).
Washing hands with soap and water is an incredibly effective way of getting rid of bacteria, far more effective and convenient than those little alcohol gels at the hospital, or packets of tissues. On the other hand, while studies like this are good to boost awareness every now and again, they probably aren’t as panic-worthy as they sound. Yes there are bacteria on your phone. And your hands, your doorknobs, your skin, your sofas cushions and basically anything you come into contact with. But it’s all far less likely to hurt you than crossing the road, or eating undercooked meat.
The full article from the Scientific American can be found here.