14 October 2011

Londoners lead in cell phone crap stakes

by Kate Melville

British poo boffins say that one-in-six of the cell phones they analyzed was contaminated with fecal matter and E. coli bacteria. The findings, say the researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London, indicate that many people are failing to wash their hands properly with soap after visiting the bathroom.

For the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine researchers, this is poo study number, er, two. Back in 2008 they found that the further north in England you go, the more likely you are to find fecal bacteria on people's hands - especially men. The new phone poo findings - like the 2008 latitudinal poo study - have been released to coincide with Global Handwashing Day (October 15th).

For the study, the researchers travelled to 12 British cities and took 390 samples from mobile phones and hands. The samples were analyzed in the lab to find out the type and number of germs lurking there. They also asked participants a series of questions about their handwashing habits.

The worst contaminated phones were in Birmingham (41 percent) while Londoners had the highest proportion of E. coli (28 percent). However, the highest bacterial loads were found - as in the 2008 study - to the north, with Scotland being the filthiest by far. In Glasgow, average bacterial levels on phones and hands were found to be nine times higher than in Brighton, reinforcing the previously established North/South divide.

Interestingly, the new findings reveal a tendency among Brits to lie about their hygiene habits. Although 95 percent of people said they washed their hands with soap where possible, 92 percent of phones and 82 percent of hands had bacteria on them. More seriously, 16 percent of phones were found to harbor E. coli.

"This study provides more evidence that some people still don't wash their hands properly, especially after going to the toilet. I hope the thought of having E. coli on their hands and phones encourages them to take more care in the bathroom - washing your hands with soap is such a simple thing to do but there is no doubt it saves lives," said the UK champion for Global Handwashing Day, Dr Val Curtis, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

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Source: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine