In 12 cities across England this past spring, researchers took almost 400 samples from cell phones and hands on the hunt for bacteria.
The researchers--from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London--found that 16 percent of both the phones and hands contained E. coli, a form of bacteria that inhabits our intestines and is typically spread through fecal matter.
At 400, the sample size is by no means large, but if those percentages are accurate, there is simply no getting around the conclusion: traces of our own poop and the resulting bacteria are hanging out on 1 in 6 of our phones and hands.
Of course, while some strains of E. coli can cause food poisoning, for the most part E. coli strains are harmless, normal members of our natural gut flora. What's more, they can even serve beneficially, producing vitamin K2 and helping to prevent more harmful pathogens from establishing themselves in our intestines.
Still, the researchers' findings do make a case for better handwashing techniques. One rule is to scrub for as long as it takes to sing two verses of "Happy Birthday." Sounds easy enough, but aside from my husband, who works in an intensive care unit, I personally don't know anyone who washes this thoroughly.
Meanwhile, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is further investigating handwashing and hygiene techniques. They're using RFID tags in the homes of Londoners to better observe bathroom and kitchen practices, including not just how frequently handwashing occurs, but also when--i.e. between flushing a toilet and handling food.
Of course, while good handwashing is an obvious preventive measure, odds are pretty low that the objects we touch the most--be they cell phones, tablets, keyboards, or doorknobs--will ever be truly sterile.
(Via BBC News)