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The Globe and Mail

Your smartphone could pose health risks you may not have considered

As we enter flu season, many people will be extra aware of surfaces where all sorts of gross germs, bacteria and viruses are lurking, whether it's subway poles or door handles. One item you should add to that list? Your cellphone.

It's close to your mouth, it's in your hand, it's pressed up to your ear and it is disgusting. You should often be able to tell that just by looking.

"We've all seen that greasy smear [on the touch screen]. Where there is grease, there are bugs," Michael Schmidt, a professor and vice chairman of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina, recently told The Wall Street Journal.

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The newspaper had a lab test eight cellphones taken at random from a Chicago office. The results will make you want to go wash your hands right away. Every one of the phones were found to have what was described as abnormally high amounts of coliforms, a bacteria indicating fecal contamination. How high is abnormally high? Every one of the phones had from 2,700 to 4,200 units of the bacteria. For the sake of reference, the newspaper points out that the limit for drinking water is just one unit per 100 ml.

All the gross things on your phone can cause diarrhea, pinkeye and flu, according to Dr. Jeffrey Cain, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

"People are just as likely to get sick from their phones as from handles of the bathroom," Cain told the newspaper. "These are the unintended consequences of new technology that we haven't seen before so we don't know all the risks yet."

The best way to clean your cellphone? Use alcohol, which gets rid of nearly 100 per cent of bacteria.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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