10 Ways Your Cell Phone Can Make You Sick

by Kristina Brooks Editor

You get your text messages, emails, and phone calls on it, but did you know your cellphone can also help you catch the flu? Here are 10 tips to help you block unwanted cold and flu germs from your phone.

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Phones carry a surprisingly high number of germs

Cell phones can carry as many germs or more than a bathroom door handle or toilet seat. Just one phone, in fact, can harbor thousands of colonies of germs and bacteria. One of the most common bacteria colonies is coliform, which indicates fecal contamination.

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Many germs found on phones cause infections

Germs, such as coliform, found on phones, tablets and phone cases have been linked to causing the flu, pink eye, diarrhea and acne. Try to minimize the amount of times you touch your phone or tablet, and then touch your face or eyes.

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Transferring germs through your phone is easy

Many parents have children wash their hands before and after meals and using the bathroom. However, they'll let kids use a smart device and not think twice about disinfecting or washing hands. Children are much more vulnerable to germs, and may also spread germs picked up from school or daycare when using mobile devices.

Woman wiping cell phone screen.
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We use the wrong thing to clean our phone

You'll often wipe your phone on your clothes to clean the screen, but alcohol is best for cleaning a phone and can remove up to 100 percent of germs from the surface. Although some may use a damp towel to wipe phones, a 2012 test from HML Labs in Indiana, found that water was least effective in removing germs.

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Some bacteria are resistant to low-grade cleaners

To avoid water damage, never spray your devices or use liquid while cleaning. First spray a towel with disinfectant, or use a disinfecting wipe. Specially designed screen wipes are also a safe alternative, but are not always best at removing stubborn bacteria.

Smiling bartender using his cell phone at work.
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We use our phones in public places

Remember to also clean your phone and case after visiting public places, such as gyms, restaurants, bars, and offices. These places have surfaces that are touched by many people throughout the day. Although you may wash your hands, that may have been after already transferring germs to the surface of your phone.

Angry man on cell phone walking down street.
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Phones are used very frequently during the day

Smartphone users can check their phones an average of 150 times during a normal day, which can leave a lot of germs behind on the screen and buttons. Some germs and bacteria can still be contagious or survive on surfaces for seconds or minutes. Others, such as enterovirus, can live up to a week if not disinfected.

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We use our phone in the wrong places

Avoid using your phone in restrooms, especially when changing diapers. This is where fecal germs and other bacteria can most easily be transferred. Only use your phone once you’ve washed your hands and left the restroom.

Cooking with recipe on smartphone.
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Food-borne bacteria can stick on the screen

Salmonella is also one of the highest-ranked bacteria found on phones, based on a report from U.S. Food Safety in 2011. If you use your phone or tablet during cooking or meal prep, be sure to disinfect it immediately to reduce lingering bacteria that could make you sick, or be transferd to other places.

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Sometimes we just have to take the call

Go hands-free! Instead of handling your phone regularly, try using a bluetooth hands-free device, especially when you're sick. Also avoid sharing your phone with people who are sick, or disinfect the surface of your phone and case immediately after sharing.

Kristina Brooks
Meet Our Writer
Kristina Brooks

Kristina Brooks was a digital editor at HealthCentral with a background in animal biology, ecology, and health science. While studying broadcast journalism, she discovered the great need for health reporters that could translate research to the public. In her work, she hopes to use research to help consumers make smart decisions about their healthcare, and empower patients to stay confident and in charge of their chronic conditions. She helped launch HealthCentral's inaugural MythWeek.