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Dangers of bacteria hiding in our gadgets

Dangerous bacteria is more common in our tech gadgets than on toilet seats, according to a new study.

Cleanliness-conscious nurses should disinfect their smartphones, tablet computers and office keyboards with anti-bacterial wipes just as they might with any other piece of hospital equipment, the research suggests.

Consumer watchdog Which? said standard swab tests unearthed “hazardous” levels of germs that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and even conceal infections such as e.coli.

It took swabs from 30 smartphones, tablets and keyboards.

One iPad had 600 units of Staphylococcus aureus, bacteria that produce toxins that can result in food poisoning.

This compares with under 20 units of Staphylococcus per swab off an office toilet, 140 on a smartphone and 480 on the filthiest keyboard.

It is vital to keep devices clean by employing anti-bacterial wipes, the watchdog advised.

Keyboard users should tip them upside down and shake them to “dislodge any old food crumbs, dust and skin flakes”, while damp, soft, lint-free cloths should be used to take away streaks from phones and tablets.

Which? blames the findings on contemporary frenetic lifestyles, with dirty fingers, eating while typing and hurried toilet breaks.

The problem is not helped by people taking their must-have tech gadgets into toilets.

James Francis, the microbiologist who undertook the study, called the count of 600 on the iPad “incredibly high”, suggesting that some people don’t wash their hands much.

Mr Francis added: “In the food industry, if we found those levels of bacteria from a hand swab of a food handler, they’d have to be taken out of the workplace and retrained in basic hygiene.”

Tests for enterobacteria found 15,000 of the bacteria on one tablet, four smartphones and five keyboards.

There were under 10 on the toilet seat and flush handle, but all these tests came up both e.coli and salmonella-free.

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Readers' comments (6)

  • I have long felt the need to highlight this risk and feel perhaps now the time is right to ask patients and visitors to cleanse their gadgets whenever they are reminded to cleanse their hands!

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  • I don't know whether all cohorts of student nurses still take swabs on the wards when studying for their microbiology module. We did in the 1970s, and were free to choose from where we took them, and the striking results have remained with me to this day.

    damp flannels and soap and the area where they were kept - very high colonisation of pseudomonas

    earpieces of ward, shared stethoscopes and telephone receivers - very high concentration of staph. aureus

    inside of a bedsheet (in those days laundered at around 95 degrees C) - almost sterile with negligible colonisation of any bacteria

    the gadgets now in use may have changed but the colonisation of bacteria probably has not but has possibly shown a considerable increase due to more which may now be in use and of a greater complexity with more sharing between individuals and more places for bacteria to lurk



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  • Nothing news here..

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  • Steve Holland | 22-Sep-2013 5:18 am


    if is not news that is a good thing and let's hope that everybody is informed and are following all the strictest rules of hygiene so a dramatic decrease in the spread of bacteria will rapidly ensue!

    However, it may be news to some and there is no harm in spreading it as widely as possible!

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  • michael stone

    This reminds me of a study from a few years back, which discovered that office desks were covered in bacteria, and then seemed to 'conclude' that eating at your desk was likely to lead to food poisoning (compared to eating elsewhere).

    The logic was flawed: you prove that eating at your desk give people food poisoning, by comparing the rate sof food poisoning for people who eat where.

    And I'm not 'just nit-picking': in theory these bacteria might have been damaged (attenuated) and that is the theory beneath vaccination - exposure to 'weakened' bacteria, provokes a strengtyened immune response without giving people the full-blown illness. It isn't enough to just count bacteria, which are present in different situations, and to blithely state 'more bacteria MUST indicate more danger' - it isn't that simple, logically.

    There is also the question of whether you are likely to fall prey to your own bacteria: if you placed the bugs onto your own phone, that is not the same as putting your bugs onto someone else's sandwich wrapping, is it ?

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  • What about BP cuffs?

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