A woman uses her smart phone as apps are shown on an iPad in Mississauga, Ont., on November 13, 2017. A new study finds teens who spend more time watching TV, talking on mobile phones and using social media are more likely to drink more sugared or caffeinated drinks than others. McMaster University researchers examined U.S. data from 32,418 students in Grades 8 and 10 and found those who spent an additional hour per day on TV were at 32 per cent higher risk of exceeding World Health Organization recommendations for sugar. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A woman uses her smart phone as apps are shown on an iPad in Mississauga, Ont., on November 13, 2017. A new study finds teens who spend more time watching TV, talking on mobile phones and using social media are more likely to drink more sugared or caffeinated drinks than others. McMaster University researchers examined U.S. data from 32,418 students in Grades 8 and 10 and found those who spent an additional hour per day on TV were at 32 per cent higher risk of exceeding World Health Organization recommendations for sugar. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

How well can cell phones carry COVID-19? Disinfecting may be wise

‘You want to keep it as clean as you would normally your hands’

Protective measures against COVID-19 have been preached daily since the onset of the pandemic — wash your hands, keep your distance, stop touching your face.

Should disinfect your cell phone be added to that list?

“Cell phones are like an organ of your body, an extension of your body,” microbiology specialist Jason Tetro said from Edmonton in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. “So you have to think of it in the same way that you would think of your hands or feet or something along those lines.

“You want to keep it as clean as you would normally your hands.”

ALSO READ: Six handwashing mistakes to avoid

Tetro, the author of “The Germ Files,” says a cell phone — like any other surface — can be contaminated by the coronavirus if it comes into contact with droplets from an infected person.

Those droplets, he said, can remain infectious for “several hours,” though the degree of their ineffectiveness depends on how long they’ve been there.

“In the first couple of hours while the droplets dry, you have a significant risk of picking up (the virus) with your finger and then putting it into your nose or your mouth,” Tetro said, adding that the average person touches their face 16 times per hour.

“Unless you’re touching a cell phone and then using hand sanitizer and then touching your face, the risk is really high that a contaminated phone could lead to you having exposure.”

While the chance of exposure continues even after the droplets have dried, Tetro said you’d have to be pressing the cell phone much harder to pick up the virus with your finger.

But applying a contaminated phone to your face is another story.

“Usually there’s been such an exponential decay after six hours that you would need direct contact between the surface and your face to pick up the virus,” Tetro said. ”Now in the case of most surfaces, that’s probably something people would laugh at, but it’s (different) when we’re talking about a phone, right?”

The material a cell phone is made of doesn’t seem to matter, Tetro said. Viruses on steel, glass and plastic have “relatively similar survival times.”

Tetro, who also goes by ”the Germ Guy,” cleans his own phone multiple times a day — one thorough cleaning followed by periodic wipes.

He suggests using a damp cloth with soap to disinfect, being careful not to use too much liquid on an electronic. Eye glass cleaning solutions, which typically contain some form of detergent, also work.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website says to clean cell phones, tablets and other touch-screen devices with “alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70 per cent alcohol.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist based out of Toronto General Hospital, said people should use common sense when deciding whether or not, and how often, they need to disinfect things like cell phones and smart watches.

“There’s no blanket statement, right? It all depends on who you’re in touch with, what you’re in touch with, what you’re doing day to day,” Bogoch said. “Have you been in touch with high-contact surfaces and now touching your phone and putting your phone to your face? OK maybe clean the phone.

“There’s no guidance for this. It’s hopefully just a bit of common sense.”

Thinking about cell phones as potential disease-spreaders isn’t new.

A research study from 2017 found a “high median bacterial count” on teenagers’ phones, and a 2015 study discovered that the Ebola virus could survive on a cell phone for up to seven days.

“COVID-19 has brought this to everyone’s attention but there’s influenza and lots of other respiratory viruses that can be present,” said Kevin Coombs, an infectious disease expert and professor of microbiology at the University of Manitoba.

“But if people are carrying out the self isolation, staying distances away from each other, that minimizes the chances of your cell phone getting contaminated.”

Tetro said he hopes the COVID-19 outbreak might change the way we look at cell phones. But he has his doubts, saying other viruses like H1N1, SARS, MERS, Zika, and West Nile did little to convince people to clean their phones more regularly.

“I’d like to think of this as a wake-up call,” Tetro said. “But we’ve had seven so-called wake-up calls since we started using cell phones in the late 1990’s.”

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Interior Health update. File photo.
86 new COVID-19 cases, two more deaths in Interior Health

The new deaths are from Heritage Square, a long-term care facility in Vernon

A power outage Thursday night left nearly 3,000 homes in Clinton and the 70 Mile areas in the dark. (Katie McCullough photo).
Updated: Clinton, 70 Mile left in the dark after vehicle crashes into transmission pole

BC Hydro still working to restore power to 330 homes in 70 Mile House

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
115 new COVID-19 cases, no new deaths in Interior Health

There are now a total of 4,970 cases in the region

Community consultation is now open regarding disposal of the former Ashcroft Elementary property, which since 2015 has operated as the Ashcroft HUB. (Photo credit: Vicci Weller)
Feedback now sought regarding disposal of Ashcroft Elementary

Residents of the region can have their say about the future of the former AES property

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Most Read