TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - Have you ever wondered what might be on your cell phone or tablet? Specifically, what kinds of germs are there?
In a WTOL 11 Investigation, we put devices to the test, and you might be shocked at what we found. You might even get seriously sick.
You likely don't only use your phone or tablet on the couch or your favorite chair, kitchen or great room. More people are even taking them into the bathroom.
"Anywhere I go I take my phone with me," said Luke McMahon. "The bathroom… outside. Everywhere I go, really."
So is he putting his health at risk?
We all see the smudges on our devices, but you don't have to be a germophobe to worry that something very gross might be on them.
We gathered up four of our favorite electronic devices: An iPad, a Kindle Fire, a cell phone and iPod.
Then, we took them to Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center's Microbiology Lab where they look for and identify bacterial infections.
Microbiology Operations Manager Jeff Jacobs showed us how lab workers will take a sterile swab of the surface and the cover - the places we touch them the most.
Lab worker Paula did this for all four devices and put the swabs in a type of broth. They then went into flasks and were labeled.
"These samples will be put into a CO2 incubator overnight, said Jacobs.
The next day, they would move them onto red plates. As the cultures were growing, anticipation was growing over what we would discover.
"Yeah, I think it would be very interesting to see what's on the devices," said Jacobs. "Like everyone else, I carry a cell phone; I have an iPod. So yeah, very much so."
We went back to the lab four days later, and Jeff showed us the results.
The iPod, cell phone and Kindle all came back normal.
All they found was flora, which is harmless microorganisms that are found on everyone's skin. Also found was coagulase-negative Staphylococci and bacillus, which we were told are also harmless.
But when it came to what was on the iPad, the mood changed in the lab.
Jacobs told us the iPad had Stenotrophomonas Maltophilia.
It sounds awful and looks very ominous on the circular plate at the lab.
"It's not something that is normally on your skin, but it is everywhere," said Dr. Richard Drake, the Director of Microbiology at Mercy Health. "It's in water; it's in sewage."
Then, Dr. Drake told us something shocking.
Someone could actually get very sick using our tablet because this is on it.
"Let's say you have pneumonia, and you're on a ventilator, or you are immuno-compromised, your immune system isn't normal. And then you become colonized with that," said Dr. Drake. "Being colonized isn't that unusual, but if you're really sick, it can use the opportunity to get into the rest of your body, cause pneumonia and other worse things than that."
Jacobs was surprised too, and was asked if it could be from taking the device into the bathroom.
"Umm, you can't rule it out," he said. "Yeah, very possible."
We showed the disgusting result to Charla Ulrich, the Director of Quality and Infection Control for Mercy St. Vincent and Mercy Children's.
"So it gets down to really excellent hand hygiene," said Ulrich. "After you go to the bathroom, before you eat your food, after you eat your food. But really paying attention to what you touch and then keeping your hands clean when you touch your devices."
Hand-washing tips from Ulrich:
- Use soap and sing the words to Happy Birthday to make sure you are washing long enough to kill germs
- Make sure you get the front and the back of the hands clean
- Clean the areas between your fingers
- Wet hands can transmit germs more easily, so make sure you dry them after washing
After hearing about our results, Luke McMahon is thinking twice about his phone.
"Wow, I think I want to wash my hands right now," he said. "I don't know, it's pretty disturbing actually."
We cleaned the iPad right away.
Tips for cleaning your device:
- Even a quick wipe with a paper towel will work and is better than nothing
- Go online and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for cleaning
- Clean the devices periodically
The infection control director says we should all clean them regularly, and a wipe of a cloth will do it. Nothing fancy is needed.
But there was one piece of good news from that iPad.
The doctors told us what was on it wouldn't make a healthy person sick.