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

Staff and volunteers at the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea were disappointed by the theft of an educational porpoise skull likely taken on Jan. 8. (Courtesy of Tina Kelly)
Well-loved porpoise skull stolen from Sidney aquarium

Skull had been used for youth and visitor education and outreach for years

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

The Starbucks in Langford’s Westshore Town Centre is one of almost 300 storefronts that the U.S. coffee giant will be shutting across Canada by the end of March. (Google Maps)
Langford’s Westshore Town Centre Starbucks to close permanently

Popular coffee chain to close 300 storefronts across Canada by end of March

An Oak Bay Police officer handed out five tickets for “fail to obey stop sign” and two tickets for using a cell phone while driving, all within two hours at King George Terrace on Jan. 11. (Oak Bay Police Twitter)
Man confronts unmasked group at Oak Bay Marina

Oak Bay police issue plenty of tickets in short King George Terrace visit

Registered nurse Sammy Mullally displayed a tray of supplies to be used by a drug addict at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., in 2011. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Councillors call on Saanich to address overdose crisis, explore options for safe consumption sites

‘There’s no vaccine for this problem,’ new action is needed, councillors say

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

Gin, one of the Kantymirs’ two sheep. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Sheep start up ATV, sit in cars and go for walks in Salmon Arm

Until they bought two sheep, Ken and Karleen Kantymir didin’t realize just how social the animals are

Most Read