"People are just as likely to get sick from their phones as from handles of the bathroom," Dr. Jeffrey Cain, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, tells The Wall Street Journal. Our ubiquitous gadgets are particularly dangerous because we hold them up to our faces, where illness-inducing bugs can creep into our ears, eyes, nose, and mouth. Just how disgusting is your phone? Here, a guide to the veritable Petri dish that is your ever-present pocket companion:
What kind of bugs are living on my phone?
The Journal tested eight randomly selected phones in a Chicago office. While they didn't show any signs of ultra-dangerous bugs like E. coli or staphylococci bacteria, the phones did have abnormal amounts of coliforms — a type of bacteria associated with fecal contamination. There isn't an easy way to say this, says Fruzsina Eördögh at ReadWrite: Basically, "your smartphone is covered in poop." (Previous studies have suggested that as many as 1 in 6 phones is contaminated with fecal matter.)
Okay, that's gross. But is it dangerous?
Potentially. Since few people clean their phones regularly, festering bacteria can lead to diseases like the flu, pinkeye, and diarrhea. "We're feeding the little creatures," says Dr. Michael Schmidt, a professor and vice chairman of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. "We've all seen that greasy smear [on the phone screen]. Where there is grease, there are bugs."
How do the germs get there?
We take our phones everywhere: The gym, restaurants, bars — and many of us, whether we admit it or not, even tap at a phone while sitting on the toilet. Simply put: Our phone hygiene just isn't very good.
How do I get cut down on contamination?
Alcohol, according to the Journal, was shown to be the most effective substance for removing germs from the back and side areas of your phone. But you might not want to use it on your smartphone's screen. (Apple says not to use "window cleaners, household cleaners, aerosol sprays, solvents, alcohol, ammonia, or abrasives" on your iPhone. BlackBerry has similar advice. Google has no official policy.) There is, of course, another way to cut down on the nasty junk living on your phone's surface: Wash your hands regularly and aggressively.