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

Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team and Victoria police executed a high-risk warrant arrest on Jan. 22. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police arrest man wanted on multiple warrants

Warrants include drug trafficking, theft and possession of firearms

A worker covers up racist graffiti along the West Shore Parkway. (Courtesy of Anna Young)
RCMP investigating racist graffiti spotted off West Shore Parkway

Hateful vandalism is rare, says Langford bylaw enforcement

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance at Saanich staff meeting

Sidney firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre will reopen Feb. 1 after a nearly 10-month closure to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Crystal Pool and Fitness Centre gears up for safe reopening in Victoria

Recreation facility opens Feb. 1 with reservation system to prevent crowding

Coun. Jack McClintock said he would have voted for a proposed statutory holiday recognizing residential school survivors if he had had all of the information. (Black Press Media File)
North Saanich split over statutory holiday recognizing residential school survivors

Legislation would recognize Sept. 30 as National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Angela Waldick is the new team photographer for the Nanaimo NightOwls. (Nanaimo NightOwls photo)
Half-blind photographer will help new Island baseball team look picture-perfect

Nanaimo NightOwls say legally blind team photographer is making history

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Surrey provincial court. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
New COVID-19 protocols set for provincial courthouses

The new rules were issued on Jan. 21, and took effect immediately

Dog owners, from left, Marlyn Briggs with Nayla, Marjory Sutherland with Effie and Mick, and Christina Godbolt with Conon walk their pets frequently at the Chemainus Ball Park but are growing increasingly concerned about drugs being found discarded in the area. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Puppy rushed to emergency 3 times after ingesting drugs in Chemainus public spaces

Dog owners walking in Chemainus parks urged to take caution

Police in Vancouver looking for male suspect who allegedly spat and attacked a store manager for not wearing a mask, at 7-Eleven near Alma Street and West 10th Avenue just before noon on Dec. 17, 2020. (Vancouver police handout)
VIDEO: Man spits on 7-Eleven manager over mask rule, sparking Vancouver police probe

‘Unfortunately, the store manager sustained a cut to his head during the assault’

The Vancouver-based SAR team successfully rescued two lost snowshoers off of the west side of Tim Jones Peak in the early morning of Monday, Jan. 19. (North Shore Rescue photo)
B.C.’s busiest SAR team raises alarm after 2021 begins with fatality, multiple rescues

‘People beyond ski resort areas of Seymour, Grouse, and Cypress go without cell reception,’ SAR warns

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission school district

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways in Mission, B.C.

Most Read