Editor’s Note: This story was published before the World Health Organization declared novel coronavirus a pandemic and Canada’s chief health officer labelled the virus a “serious public health threat.” Follow the latest coronavirus coverage.
Amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, there’s been a lot of talk about the importance of handwashing and keeping spaces clean — but what about your cellphone?
The average person touches their phone more than two hours a day, according to research firm Dscout.
As much as we like to use these gadgets to store pictures, send emails and scroll through social media, they harbour bacteria — and lots of it.
Experts warn that our phones can host a variety of bacteria, such as E. coli. It’s also been said that our phones have more germs than a toilet seat. And because you’re constantly touching your phone, all that bacteria can get on you if your touch our face.
But can it lead to an infection?
“There are microbes, fungal spores and fecal matter on your phone,” microbiologist Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code, previously told Global News. “But when it comes to bacteria, unless you have a habit of licking your phone, you should be OK.”
Tetro said cellphone users should be more worried about viruses on their phones.
“When you move to virus, it gets sketchier,” he previously told Global News.
“You can actually pick up that on your hand, put into your nose and mouth and increase the chance of infection,” he said. Staph bacteria also stands a chance of making its way into your eyes, nose and mouth, he said.
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The novel coronavirus is not a bacteria but a virus, and it’s transmitted through droplets from coughing or sneezing.
“We know how it’s transmitted,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious diseases specialist with the University of Toronto and the University Health Network, previously told Global News.
“We know that it can stick to surfaces for a period of time, although we’re not entirely sure of how long it can be viable on surfaces.”
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At a press conference Thursday, World Health Organization officials said studies on this question were ongoing.
In order to avoid getting sick from the bacteria on your phone, Tetro said it’s best to use common sense — wash your hands, clean your phone and don’t take your phone into the bathroom. He also recommends cleaning your phone at least twice a day.
And if you forget, “set alarm on your device so you remember.”
How to clean your phone
Tetro recommends using an alcohol wipe to disinfect it. If you’re in a crunch, you can put hand sanitizer on a cloth and wipe it down, he said.
However, if you’re worried about damaging your phone by using harsh cleaners, you can lightly dampen a lint-free cloth or microfiber cloth with a mix of 60 per cent water and 40 per cent rubbing alcohol. For hard-to-reach places, moisten the tip of a cotton swab.
Also, make sure not to spray anything directly on your device, as water and electronics don’t mix.
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Similarly, Google advises using “ordinary household soap or cleaning wipes” when needed.
In addition to recommending wet wipes, Samsung suggests users wash their hands every time they cough, sneeze, eat and use the bathroom to “reduce the likelihood of passing on your germs to your smart devices.”
Keep washing your hands
Washing your hands regularly is one of the first things that public health officials in Canada, the U.S. and the WHO recommend in their online resources on preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“You can stay healthy and prevent the spread of infections by … washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,” says the Canadian government’s website.
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“Individuals can practise everyday prevention measures like frequent handwashing, staying home when sick and covering coughs and sneezes,” says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s page on how to prevent COVID-19 spread in communities.
Other recommendations include coughing and sneezing into your elbow and avoiding touching your face.
The WHO also advises keeping a distance of at least three feet between yourself and a person who is coughing or sneezing to prevent exposure to droplets.
“When someone coughs or sneezes, they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth, which may contain virus,” the organization says.
The new coronavirus was first identified in Hubei province, China, in December 2019 and spread rapidly. While the outbreak has begun to level off in China, it seems the virus has found a foothold in a number of countries around the world, and it continues to spread.
Confused about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
Visit full COVID-19 coverage on Global News.
— With files from Global News’ Katie Dangerfield