back to article iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid: purveyors of pestilence

Your smartphone or touchscreen tablet is not your friend — not with flu season approaching. "If you're sharing the device, then you're sharing your influenza with someone else who touches it," warns Stanford University doctoral student Timothy Julian, discussing deadly digital disease-delivery devices with The Sacramento Bee …


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  1. Virus_Fan
    Thumb Up

    Excellent Work

    This is some stellar journalism. Not only am I impressed by the fact that you quoted almost-Dr. Julian's Monte Carlo simulation paper in addition to his experimental work published in Journal of Applied Microbiology , but the prose is fantastic.

    I'm sure Julian and "his band of bug boffins" are very proud that someone is recognizing their hard work.

  2. Steve Evans

    Oh let's stick touch screen on a report...

    Of course sharing bugs and germs wouldn't happen if you shared a non touch screen phone with someone else, or a landline handset or a book.

    1. Daniel 1

      Or shared a house... or a breakfast plate... or kissed them occasionally

      I think, if you've done six unhygienic things before breakfast - preferably with someone you love - your immune system is probably better-armed to face a world full of "things that other people have touched".

    2. Michael C


      ...or a keyboard, or a mouse, or a door knob, or the handle of a coffee pot, or car keys, or the arm rest on a chair, or a remote control...

      You both cannot and SHOULD NOT protect yourself from such mundane contacts (unless you have an immune deficiency).

      Exposure to small amounts of infection is actually GOOD for you. You'll get sick less, and less severe if you permit contact with life to actually happen. On the flip side, do you think contact with al those lysogens and anti-bacterial chemical is actually good for you? Do you not think killing all the viruses won't cause those immune to such treatment to become more prevalent?

      I'm not saying give hugs and kisses to people you can see are clearly infectious, I'm simply saying (backed by clinical surveys dating back 50 years), that the small amount of material on a surface, exposed to air until it;s dry (which by itself kills most bugs), then a fraction of that transferring to you, is such a small amount that unless you have a habit of licking your fingers or poking yourself in the eyes regularly after using public doors, your immune system can handle (and is designed to handle) that small potential infection, then rendering you IMMUNE to further exposure.

      Also, if you, or your kids, ARE infection, STAY THE FUCK HOME!

  3. Marcelo Rodrigues

    We are going to get wiped out of the Earth!

    Our last line of defense are the telephone cleaners! Please, pelase! Do NOT, I repeat: do NOT send them away!

    Else we'll fall victims of an unknown disease, spread by telephones.

    1. Goat Jam


      That would be "telephone sanitisers" but other than that I fully concur with your statement!

      1. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Oh no it wouldn't be!

        The ghastly neologism that you refer to would be "sanitizers", since it was created in the USA.

        I hope that that Phonotas employees use(d) detergents and disinfectants.

  4. JaitcH
    Thumb Up

    Jobs: Apple products are pestilence free

    As no self-respecting bug would dare to to step upon the surface of an Apple product, fruit users are safe.

    Watch for some new Apple patents: (a) Plastic casings impregnated with bug killer; (b) All future products will radiate a very high frequency which will drive mosquitoes away; (c) Wipes, at only a $1 each, to polish Apple casings and to disinfect them, too. These are unlike others on the market as they are imprinted with the sign of the fruit.

  5. HCl+NaOH

    You wouldn't want to share your phone with a friend, not after you met him and shook his hand ...

    The real story here is that people actually pay Stanford money in exchange for a title earned through this kind of seriously advanced research.

    Somewhere there's government or higher education job with Timmy's name on it.

    Meanwhile, other stochastic-mechanistic models have determined that most Reg readers' hands have at least 256 germs per square micron, and should refrain from contact with the keyboard, no matter how difficult it may be in this particular instance.

  6. Neal 5

    Technology, incredible stuff.

    Just wondering, perchance, how did we get so ill before all this technology stuff then, or did we not get the 'flu pre smart phones.

    Just goes to show, there's more to this conspiracy theory bruhaha than meets the eye.

    I blame Florence Nightingale myself.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do what I do....

    go boil your iphone for 5 minutes

    1. BorkedAgain

      Are you insane?

      15-20 minutes in an autoclave would be a minimum...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "15-20 minutes in an autoclave would be a minimum."

        Not to screw-up an iphone. Maybe if you wanted to sterilize it as well

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    I have safe phoning.....

    I put a condom over mine.

    1. JaitcH

      Don't laugh! Women's condoms are best ...

      for keeping small electronics dry in the rain jungles of S.E. Asia unless you have a waterproof cells and laptops. Unfortunately many Bluetooth devices are susceptible to rain and they can get expensive to replace.

      Since the rain is a soaking rain we also line our packs with giant garbage bags so only the backpack material itself gets wetted.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Halo


    it's still safe to use Windows phones.

    1. James O'Shea

      yes, but

      'it's still safe to use Windows phones.'

      Only because no-one wants to touch a Windows phone.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "it's still safe to use Windows phones."

      That's because they're UNTOUCHABLE

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Double Impact

      Windows phones are even more deadly. The viruses on the inside will rinse your bank account so you can't afford to get treatment for the viruses on the outside.

      On a more positive note, even after your death, your stolen ID can live on.

  10. R Callan

    Minor nit

    Coliforms (faecal or otherwise) are Enterobacteriaceae. Most Enterobacteriaceae are harmless in the gastro-intestinal tract, the major exceptions being Shigella and Salmonella and some Escherichia Coli which have been conjugated with Shigella.

    1. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

      Re: Minor Nit

      "Most Enterobacteriaceae are harmless in the gastro-intestinal tract"

      Probably, but that won't stop Dettol bringing out yet another set of wipes and sprays advertised by the irritating bint doing her best gravely voice with Hammer Horror music behind. Buy our latest crap OR THE KIDDIES WILL DIE.

      Two weeks down the road we'll go through it again as Dettol bring in and automatic dispenser version. Do you handle cleanser bottles and packets with your bare hands? Yes? YOUR KIDDIES ARE GOING TO DIE.

      Pleeeeease can we B Ark everyone who works in advertising? Or just shoot them, I'm not fussy.

  11. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Nothing has changed

    What's the difference between touch screen phones and previous phones? either would require you to hold the thing in your hand.

    1. Michael C

      probably even safer

      1: older phones had buttons, and crevices germs could get stuck in.

      2: touch screen phones are extremely smooth glass, not plastic, and are usually oleophobic coated (finger oils have a hard time sticking and prefer your finger to the glass).

      3: most people clean their smart-phones regularly. Even just being taling in and out of a pocket cleans them significantly better than a non-touchscreen phone.

      Best bet, an iPhone is probably one of the safest (on the scale with "you still might consider not doing this, especially with a sick person", being on the lowest end) devices you can hand between people.

  12. John Sanders

    Killer phones...

    I just love it... my boss better take care... :D

  13. Pawel 1


    Well, that's sorted then. Company that has no idea about error calculation (elementary statistics) is not the one I would pay money to. Would you?

  14. paul-s
    Dead Vulture

    You missed the science bit

    So what makes a touchscreen smartphone any more a virus carrier than a button-laden dumbphone, other than this article being an exercise in headline grabbing?

  15. John Murgatroyd


    my iphone with another person ?

    You need to get out more, preferably a long way away !

  16. Greg J Preece

    This always bugs me

    "Mobile phones can harbour on average 18 times more living bacteria than a flush on a gents' toilet."

    Yes, but are they the same kinds of bacteria. This is the same claim that pisses me off in Dettol adverts - "there's more germs on your chopping board than on your bog seat." Yes, but they're not the same fucking germs, are they!?

    "If you put virus on a surface, like an iPhone, about 30 per cent of it will get on your fingertips,"

    How about if you put it on a Surface? I'm more likely to share one of those touch devices than a phone, mine, company or otherwise.

  17. Lottie

    Whenever you swipe your phone,

    you're swiping everyone you're phone has been with.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Guess what?

    I've got an immune system.

  19. fscara

    carped the diem?

    that's not what i did by checking carpo,carpsi,carpere...

  20. Michael C

    Paranoia, focussed

    "Smartphone" dangerous? Why focus on the smartphone?

    In companies, employees often share on-call phones of all kinds, typically even laptops (upon which the keyboard is a veritable cesspool of infections waiting to strike), conference bridges, projectors, even buttons on the soda machine are all more likely to get you an infection than a smart phone. At home, you share a remote control a dozen times more a night than a phone. I clean my iPhone regularly, and its nearly button free exterior means very few places for a virus to hide. When's the last time you polished the TV remote, or the land line phone, or your shared home computer keyboard, or sprayed down with lysol the seat your ass just departed?

    Targeting specific things to clean for fear of viruses is the job of nut cases and those with specific medical issues. If your susceptible to colds and viruses, use hand gels and antibacterial wipes and you have little to fear that's not airborne, no matter the surface you touch. For the rest of us, being exposed to dirt, grime, and bugs is actually IMPORTANT, as it strengthens our immune system. Over-ridiculous cleaning regiments can only protect you so far (most of the bugs you can get are airborne, face it), and exposure to all that chemical can't be good for you in exchange.

    I'm not superhuman, but I only get a couple sniffles a year and maybe 1 or 2 good colds. I get the flu maybe once every 7-8 years (and more often when i get the shot then when i do not.). This past year both the wife and my daughter got it, and I both had no flu shot (they did) and I didn't get it. I clean my kitchen very well (food borne illnesses are both bad and easy to prevent, but I dislike ants equally), and keep the house in general order, but I don't spray and clean every last surface for fear of infection (I clean mostly to prevent unpleasant smell and the look of disorder, not for the medicinal benefits), I only vacuum once a week and not even regularly, and we're lucky to polish the bathroom at least as often. People that i know who do clean heavily, spray everything, and waste hours a week; they are constantly sick, as are their kids.

    Exposure to an infection is not a guarantee of infection. A tiny bit of care can prevent that (don't stick your fingers in your eye after touching something that doesn't belong to you personally, don't shake hands kiss or hug people visibly sick, and visit places that sick people go as absolutely infrequently as possible). However, that small exposure causes a small immune reaction, and potentially develops immunity, so later when you touch someone's phone who really is sick, and they have a cold you've previously been exposed to, you do not get sick! Taking away that exposure means you have no protections. The body was designed to fight these things, but lack of exposure not only means you have more things to be exposed to you're not immune to, but the immune system is like a muscle, and under-worked it gets weaker in general, making tho colds you get harder to get over.

    Oh, and unless specifically advised by a doctor not to, breastfeed for as long as humanly possible, 2 seasons minimum. I swear, all the 0-3 month baby formula should be strictly by prescription, and the 6 month stuff used only as supplements. Failing to provide your child those immunities by personal choice should at the very least cause your insurance company to raise your rates if not come with civil penalties. It should be something only done out of medical necessity, and never choice. Don't want to feed? Don't have a child!

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Bugs = not bad

    What's not clear is how many of these bug are actually dangerous.

    Afterall, about 80% of bacterial species and a fair whack of viruses are harmless to a normal, healthy human (or immunized into irrelevance). Most are destroyed in the gut (though some are actually needed in the gut).

    I think the freaky-clean brigade would freak out if they knew how pervasive the little critters are.

    Interesting fact (best served when dining, obviously): the average human will consume 8 spiders without knowing it over their lifetime, and inhale/injest around a 100g of bed bugs, mites and other criters. Cyclists and runners may inhale/consume larger critters than this though. Which is nice.

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