Could your cell phone make you sick? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Could your cell phone make you sick?

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November 26, 2007

Albany-  Millions of people in the United States use cellular phones. They keep us in touch with pretty much anyone on the planet from just about anywhere! But have you ever stopped to think what may be on this phone you hold so close to your face. We put several phones to the test to find out what may be lurking on that screen and under the keys that could be making you sick.

Let's face it, most of us use our cell phones just about as often as we check the clock during the day, but have you ever stopped to think what might be on the phone you just put so close to your face.

"This phone is only used by me and nobody else ever touches it so this is going to be my germs," said Dr. Craig Smith.

We decided to put some cell phones to the test, under a microscope, to see what germs may be lurking.

"There's probably makeup, bubble gum, hair spray, and a few other things," said Linda Cauley, An Albany technical College Dental Instructor.

Albany physician Dr. Craig Smith, Albany Tech instructor Linda Cauley, and student Sheniedra Fudge surrendered their cell phones long enough for us to test them.

"Do you ever clean your cell phone?" "No I don't," said Cauley.

"I usually don't think about cleaning my phone. I'm like most people and to clean a phone with all the nooks and crannies is very hard," said Smith.

"I may wipe it off but as far as really cleaning it, I don't," said Sheniedra Fudge.

We also tested one of our own WALB news 10 phones, taking them all to the lab at Tift Regional Medical Center.

"The plate has sheep's blood on it and it will grow any type of bacteria and even a yeast. So We can see if it's a staph or Strep or anything that's considered a graham negative rod which would belike an E-coli which is very common like in a urinary tract infection or something like that. I'm going to take a regular swab that can be used to culture almost any area. We're going to take the swab roll it around on the phone any place that looks like it may touch the skin. Then we take the swab and roll it around on the plate, you do it in one area of the plate and then you streak it out to see how much growth there is," said Theresa Norman, Tift Regional Medical Center Microbiologist.

After each phone is swabbed, the plates are put inside an incubator set at body temperature, 37 degrees Celsius, so the cultures will grow. Two days later we were back at Tift Regional to see what's on our cell phones and what we found may shock you. Linda Cauley's phone was surprising, hardly any growth.

"She either cleaned it or she's very clean," said Norman.

We asked Linda, if she cleaned it before she gave it to us, and there may be an important lesson in what she does.

"I don't clean my cell phone regularly, but I do have a habit of just kind of brushing it off on my side so that probably had something to do with that," said Cauley.

Student Sheniedra Fudge had three different types of bacteria on her phone.

"That Coagulase Negative Staph is actually what I refer to as Beta Hemolytic Staph so how it takes the color out of the plate versus turning it brow which is what Strep did," said Norman.

She was shocked by her results.

"Yeah I am, but I'm really not surprised like I said there's germs everywhere and you just have to be aware of that kind of stuff," said Fudge.

One person not surprised by the results Dr. Craig Smith, he expected to see some bacteria on his cell phone.

"What he had was what we would call a Coagulase Negative staph and this is the Coagulase Negative staph what it would look like if you have a plate full of it," said Norman.

It's pretty typical of what everyone has on his skin.

"Actually these are good reports because most of this is scant or light growth," said Smith. The worst phone in the bunch? Our own.

"Now the WALB phone is a whole different matter. We had what we would call five different types of bacteria growing on the WALB phone," said Fudge.

Our plates contained heavier growth and some things we saw on the other phones.

"That's probably how a lot of colds are passed, you can't see colds on the plate because they're viruses not bacteria but this gives you an indication how a virus can be easily passed because they're a lot like the bacteria we just do not have a way to grow them on our plates," said Norman.

While our results for the most part were good because we didn't find anything dangerous on any of the four phones.

"None of the germs were pathogenic or killer type germ," said Smith.

Our experiment proved your cell phone does hold germs and likely viruses. While none of the four phones we tested had killer type germs that doesn't mean they're not on your phone.

"Just knowing that there's bacteria there you'd have to assume there would also be viruses there," said Smith.

Giving you all the more reason to clean your cell phone more regularly.

You can easily clean your cell phone in a short amount of time. First remove the battery and faceplate. Take the bottle of rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip. Wet the Q-tip with the alcohol and rub each surface of your phone. Using a lightweight cloth, wipe your phone clean and put it back together. As well as looking great, it is now bacteria-free!

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