Germs study points finger at women

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 26/06/2014

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Women are more attached to their phones than men - at least at a bacterial level, new research shows.

An examination of hands and smartphones has found the devices are a hotbed of bacteria, and women's phones carry more than men's.

It follows other studies which found one in six mobile phones carries E. Coli from fecal matter and that phones can harbour more germs than a toilet seat.

Scientists at the University of Oregon - who previously found that roller derby teams shared a bacteria signature on their shoulders - sequenced microbes from the text-hand index fingers and thumbs of 17 people and their phone touchscreens.

They found phones' bacteria closely resembled the collections sampled from owners' fingers, with 82 per cent of the most common bacteria on participants' fingers also found on their phones.

Women were more intimately connected, microbiologically speaking, to their phones than men and were found to have bacteria on their index fingers that was not markedly different from their mobile phones, which was not the case for men.

University of Auckland microbiology lecturer Mike Taylor said although the sample size was small, the study was scientifically robust and confirmed what most mobile users already suspected:

"Phones are an extension of ourselves" - a sentiment he said also rang true for our personal bacterial baggage.

Taylor spent "far too much time" on his mobile and said he wasn't surprised by the findings.

As for female phones harbouring more bacteria, a quick poll of his female microbiology undergraduates revealed two theories - that women text and email more on their mobiles or that they used more moisturisers and skin products than men. The liquid content in the products would boost transmission of bacteria between hand and phone.

Another US study published in 2008 found women had a wider range of bacteria on their hands than men.

Researchers speculated the gender quirk may have to do with men's hands being more acidic than women's or differences between the sexes in sweat and oil gland secretion, skin thickness or hormone production.

Wellington neuroscience honours student Victoria Lee said women's phones may be more bacteria-prone than men's because women probably wash their hands more.

"Obviously having a really sanitised place can be bad for you especially in a moist environment if you haven't quite dried your hands properly, meaning bacteria could grow."

Michael Amador, director of cellphone repair franchise Dr Mobiles, said there was no evidence women's phones were more germ-laden than men's and most smartphone bacteria was harmless.

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His staff fixed up to 20 phones a day and rarely took sick leave.

Keep your phone ringing - not minging

Cellphones are among our most filthy personal effects and can harbour more germs than a toilet seat. One in six phones has traces of E. coli bacteria from fecal matter, so here's some tips on keeping your mobile ringing – not minging. 

Gently disinfect with anti-bacterial screen wipes or use a 60/40 blend of water and isopropyl alcohol to swab surfaces. Use lint-free microfibre cloths and avoid rough paper towels or ammonia-based window cleaners. Canned air is a good way to blast out dust but there is a plethora of next generation gadgets emerging for smartphone hygiene, including UV light-equipped clamshell cases to neutralise germs. Common household items such as soft make-up brushes, tweezers, tooth-picks and cotton pads are all useful weapons in the fight against cellphone crud. Cup and roll your cellphone in your palms after using hand sanitiser.

- The Dominion Post

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