Calling All Germs: Cell Phones Home For Many Bacteria - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News


Calling All Germs: Cell Phones Home For Many Bacteria

One of the few things most of us carry around almost all the time is our cell phones. And all that handling isn't always with clean hands, of course.

We decided to find out if germs can thrive on a cell phone.  With help from the microbiology lab at the University of Texas Health Center at Tyler, we tested twelve cell phones for dangerous bacteria.  

Dr. Richard Wallace and lab supervisor Angie Lanphier's analysis at UT Health Center was thorough.

"We had one that had a few fungal colonies," Lanphier said.

The tests were performed for a variety of bacteria. And in dish after dish, they grew. 

The verdict: Germs.  We delivered that word to workers at Buford Media in Tyler, who helped us with our experiment.

"The good news is that nobody had anything that came from, well, a bad place, like a bathroom," KLTV 7's Morgan Palmer told the workers.  "The bad news is that everyone has Staph.  That's right.   Everyone has Staph."

There was a gasp for a moment, then the realization that Staphylococcus bacteria live on all of us, all the time.

The only thing found on nearly everyone's phone was normal skin bacteria.  However, the amount of bacteria for some was low, but moderate for others.  Also, people who share cell phones are probably swapping skin bacteria, an unpleasant thought.

One of our volunteers though, who didn't want to be on camera, gave us something more to talk about!

"Connie, you had mold on your phone," Palmer said.

"No wonder you haven't been feeling well," chimed in a co-worker.

It was a fungus. It really looks even in the agar dish like mold from a piece of bread.

"Iit had one little fungal colony. That could be normal, or it could be something that you want to clean your phone," Lanphier said.

However, fungus wasn't just on one phone.  We approached KLTV 7's Tracy Watler, whose phone we tested in our last segment of this story.

"There was something else growing, something that became fuzzy in the dish and it's some fungus," Palmer said.

"Are you serious?," Watler said.  "I don't see any fungus."

Fungus generally won't hurt anyone who has a healthy immune system.

However, one sample required extra work by lab technicians.  When we arrived at UTHC's lab, there were four agar test dishes for each sample.

Except for one.

"The fact that we have a taller skyscraper of testing gear might indicate we had some problems," we asked microbiology supervisor Angie Lanphier. 

"It has been somewhere more than just skin," she said.

There were some different colors on these samples. 

"We did have some gram-negative rods," Lanphier said. 

Gram-negative rods can be much more dangerous and can make someone very sick.  Just where it came from, the lab couldn't say -- except it probably didn't come from a human.

The phone belonged to Chief Meteorologist Mark Scirto.

"It probably needs to be placed in some sort of quarantine," Palmer told him.

"I figured," Scirto said.

Palmer: "We tested twelve phones and yours was the only one who got the 'Oh my!' treatment from the lab technician."

Scirto: "Nice."

Angie Lanphier said having gram-negative bacteria on the phone was a big problem.

"On a scale from one to two, I'd probably put that as an eight or a nine," she said.

Dr. Richard Wallace is a professor of microbiology and medicine at UT Health Center.

"It has been somewhere more than just skin.  So what we picked up are not things you would normally find on the human skin, but things that you would normally find in a not quite as clean environment."

Mark went right to the disinfectant wipes to clean his phone.  But we learned it could be too harsh on the plastics.  Experts say use a Q-tip dampened with alcohol, or a moist towelette... like one you might get at a restaurant. 

Get in all the little crevices. That's where dirt and germs will hide.

Dr. Wallace says we're fortunate we didn't find the dangerous MRSA Staph bacteria that has killed in recent weeks, or a very dangerous E. coli. 

But we only tested twelve phones.

"Don't interpret this to mean that you can't pick it up, but that the risk is not extremely high --  probably no more than 10 percent that you can pick up that bacteria," he said.

Reported by Morgan Palmer


Powered by Frankly