Now wash your hands - and your mobile

Mobile phone Often not as clean as it looks...

It is the sort of news story that will have left many feeling queasy over their breakfast cereal - a study which suggests one in six mobile phones is contaminated with faecal matter.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London took nearly 400 samples from mobile phones and hands in 12 British cities.

They found 16% of phones and 16% of hands harboured E. coli (Escherichia coli), bacteria which inhabit the human intestines.

The largest proportion of contaminated phones was in Birmingham (41%) while Londoners were caught with the highest proportion of E. coli present on hands (28%).

Start Quote

Why do so many people clearly not wash their hands with soap after a visit to the toilet? Perhaps they do, but are simply doing it wrong.”

End Quote Fergus Walsh

But the sample size in each city was small, so the variations between them could be a statistical anomaly.

However Dr Val Curtis, from the London School of Hygiene says the study showed clear differences between north and south.

"We found the further north we went the more hands and phones were likely to be contaminated. It could be the bugs survive better in colder and wetter conditions or it might be that people wash their hands less."

I explained to Dr Curtis that such comments were unlikely to win her friends in Glasgow and Liverpool - two of the cities where samples were taken.

But she brushed this aside explaining that after a similar survey three years ago she was advised not to hang around Newcastle.

Dr Ron Cutler of Queen Mary, University of London, explains the findings

Archers warning

Most strains of E. coli found on the hands and phones are not likely to cause major ill-health, although listeners of "The Archers" will know that Clarrie Grundy became an unwitting carrier of the bacteria, leading to a number of children being hospitalised in the fictional county of Borsetshire.

Dr Curtis explained that they were using E. coli as a marker for the presence of faecal matter.

She said: "Campylobacter and Salmonella bacteria are much more likely to cause a gastric infection and could easily be passed on through faecal contamination."

So we are talking about poo, excrement - on mobile phones and fingers.

Hand washing technique

Why do so many people clearly not wash their hands with soap after a visit to the toilet? Perhaps they do, but are simply doing it wrong.

I remember having correct hand-washing technique described to me by the virologist Professor John Oxford.

He thought people didn't wash thoroughly enough, or long enough - two verses of Happy Birthday to you were suggested.

Perhaps there is also a confusion in some people's minds about dirt and germs. After all, there is plenty of research suggesting dirt can be good for you.

Since the late 1980s the "hygiene hypothesis" has argued that the lack of early childhood exposure to some germs may be linked to the rise in allergic diseases, by suppressing the development of the immune system. It's a much-debated theory.

But while letting your children - or your husband - play in the dirt may well be ok, they still need to wash their hands after the toilet. Or after handling raw meat and poultry.

Big killer

You simply have to look to the developing world to see the devastating effects of poor hygiene. Diarrhoeal disease remains one of the world's biggest killers.

While hand-washing may help prevent a nasty stomach bug here, in poorer countries it can save lives.

The survey from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is timed to publicise Global Handwashing Day on 15 October.

It is an annual event which promotes hand-hygiene, the cheapest and most effective way of preventing infection by bacteria and viruses.

Fergus Walsh Article written by Fergus Walsh Fergus Walsh Medical correspondent

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Read full article


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  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I see LOADS..I mean loads of women leaving public toilet facilities without washing their hands... others often just rinse them under a tap and don't use soap.. do your own observations when you're out and you'll want teaspoons in the peanuts too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Anyone who has ever worked in a library will know just how much dirt one can get from the plastic jackets.

    I used to know someone who would say: ' careful with that soap as you don't know where it has been',

    Of course the real problem comes with there being less public loos, & thus less places in which to wash ones hands.

    I'll just say no more .....

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Meh! If these scientists/professors, or whatever they get off on being called, had their way, we'd all seal ourselves up in air-tight plastic bags and never venture out. These scare tactics are so lame. This is just somebody trying to make a name for themselves in the so-called scientific world. Often we are told this or that is good/bad for you but several years later they'll say the opposite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I await the 'study' of studys which Im am confident will conclude that 'studys' are an exercise in stating the bleedin obvious at huge public expense. Wash your hands when you have been to the loo,dont eat with your fingers without washing your hands first and accept that whatever you do before you die you will probably eat a bit of muck.It wont hurt you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I am more concerned about supermarket pin pads, each of which is touched by hundreds of people every day. Has anyone checked these for infectious agents? Maybe there's a need to rate supermarket companies by the level of contamination of their checkouts

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I would think 'chip and pin machines' and 'cash machines' rank higher than mobiles as almost everyone uses them

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Most toilet doors open the wrong way. If the door to the toilet area was pulled to enter the toilet, it could then be pushed by foot or arm on exit, thereby saving the annnoying 'I've just washed my hands, now how do I get out without contaminating my hands on the door handle?' dilemma.

    Scientific study? How much less fecal matter would be distributed to our environment if bog door swung out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Yet more sensationalism from BBC journalists! Faecal matter (implying pooh on your hands) is more shocking than e.coli.

    And then deaths in the Archer's are quoted to back up the danger!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    7. Peter
    4 Hours ago

    So the 'sample size in each city was small, so the variations between them could be a statistical anomaly' and yet either the reporter or the researcher had the audacity to draw conclusions

    ... and brings in a completely fictitious incident to highlight the problem. What relevance has that got to a supposedly scientific survey.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Public & workplace washrooms are a particular menace. No matter how carefully you wash my hands, you always have to grab a handle to open the door and leave. If any person before me didn't hand wash properly, they've left their bugs on that handle and they are now on our hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    "Poor science, leading to poor journalism."

    Not unusual at all. I wonder if the fall in general educational standards is leading to poor quality research scientists. Professors are far to young these days!

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    This is the perfect time for video showing correct handwashing technique. SO BBC please add it or at least put a link to a video showing it.

    You can also talk about alternative ways of washing your hands - sanitation devices like sprays, the new blow driers from Dyson and also ultraviolet light hand cleaners. How well do they work?

    Its all in good bathroom design - push taps bad, autotaps good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Singaporeans have notices in most public loos with step-by-step instructions on how to wash one's hands., beginning with overall lathering with soap, then washing between fingers, blah. A local hospital even had posters for a clean hands campaign. How much cleaner can we get :). Abt poo on mobiles, cdnt it have come from touching pets?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Grow up. In a particulate universe there are traces of poo on everything. Also traces of Albert Einstein, in new "Genius all over you shocker". Such articles really only serve to unsettle those with contamination fetishes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    During the blitz on hospital infections a few years ago, I estimated that 30% of men don't wash their hands after using the toilet. This was in southern England and London. I am assured by my horrified wife, that the numbers for women are vanishingly small. So, it's not dirty people, it's dirty men! Analysis shows that it's almost as important to dry your hands properly as it is to wash them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    i often dont wash my hands use my phone to eat carrots

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Wash your mobile? What a load of tish-tosh. Exposure to bacteria builds up our immune systems - of course, I'm not recommending we all start licking our toilet seats - but tons of things in our daily lives have similar levels of bacteria: computers, stationery, transport, OTHER PEOPLE! Just how are we surviving? Oh yeah, the wee thing called EVOLUTION which gave us our IMMUNE SYSTEMS.

    Get a grip.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    It's more the result of people not washing their mobiles phones than not washing their hands. Other typically unwashed and often handled items like computer keyboards and money are also filthy but I won't lose my appetite over any of them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I often clean my hands with wet wipes during my trip round town, in addition to my washing my hands after using the toilet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Auslander (comment 4.) is not alone in being unaware of the correct hand-washing technique. Over the last seven years I have worked for three companies and had the displeasure to witness not a single one of my colleagues ever washing his hands properly. Most seem to think that wetting their fingers for half a second is sufficient for good hygiene. I am also unique in never having been off sick.


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