Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Phones carry personal germ stamp

Possibilities include screening devices of hospital staff to detect or prevent spread of pathogens: study

We're more connected to our cellphones than we thought, scientists say. Photo / Thinkstock
We're more connected to our cellphones than we thought, scientists say. Photo / Thinkstock

We're more connected to our cellphones than we thought, scientists say.

A new study by US researchers has found that many of the personally unique bacteria found on our hands can also be found on our smartphones.

The findings, published this week in open-access journal PeerJ, open up the possibility of smartphones being used to check if a person has picked up bugs in germ-heavy environments such as hospitals, rather than testing the person themselves.

"In the foreseeable future we might have some sort of device in a hospital, where a nurse or a doctor at the end of the day can put their cellphone down and, in the matter of a few minutes, they'll know whether there's a good risk of taking dangerous pathogens out of the hospital home to their families or in the beginning of the day, bringing something into the hospital," lead author James F Meadow told AlJazeera.com.

The researchers, from the University of Oregon, sampled the hands and phones of 17 people for 7000 different naturally occurring microbes commonly found on our bodies.

They found that 82 per cent of the dominant microbes on their hands were also found on their phones, and the collections matched their own personal microbiome, or the community of bacteria regularly carried by a person. Microbiologically, women were found to be more closely connected to their phones than men.

According to Statistics New Zealand, 64 per cent of Kiwis aged between 15 and 65 own a smartphone, and it was expected this rate would reach 90 per cent by 2018.

Dr Mike Taylor, a senior lecturer in microbiology at the University of Auckland, saw the potential of the concept.

"I don't think we are going to see it as standard screening material tomorrow. But maybe some time in the future, as technology gets more and more sensitive."

Dr Taylor said he was unsuprised by the findings, which were in line with a previous study that looked at bacterial transfer to computer keyboards.


Smartphones bugged

82% of microbes on our hands can also be found on our smartphones, a new study suggests.
7000 different microbes commonly found on our bodies were searched for on the hands and phones of 17 study participants.
64% of New Zealanders aged between 15 and 65 are estimated to own a smartphone.

- NZ Herald

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