We decided to find out if germs and bacteria could thrive on a cell phone. With the help from the microbiology lab at UMC, we swabbed 18 cell phones for dangerous bacteria. UMC Medical Technologist Kevin Willingham tested all of our swabs for us.
Let's start with these eleven phones. Every single one of them came back either clean, or with normal stuff, like skin flora. Willingham says that is something we all have and it comes from our fingertips.
But how about our station phone? It looked pretty dirty and our swab results confirmed that for us.
"The station phone by far is the grungiest in its origin. We normally see this kind of stuff in the environment. Bacillus, stuff you'd find in dirt," said Willingham. That same dirt was found on this phone which belongs to News Director Benji Snead and our teenager, Alex Sanchez. It looks bad in the Petri dish, but Willingham assures me it's not.
"Is this something that could make someone sick?" we asked. "No," Willingham responded.
But the results on the next three phones tested can make someone sick. Here's the result for the ten year-old's cell phone we swabbed. "It looks bad but it's a ground negative rod, which is kin to an E-coli. It's environmental," said Willingham.
"Could this make you sick?" we asked. "Only if you were immuno-compromised, like if you had AIDS or cancer.
And this phone isn't exactly squeaky clean either. "It has strep," said Willingham.
It can cause strep throat in people. This is the phone that belongs to daycare worker Kendall Winfield. Remember, she's the one who lets her baby drool on and play with her phone.
"This causes meningitis in children it can cause ear infections, pneumonia," Willingham said.
We told Winfield about what we found on her phone. "That's not good," she said.
NewsChannel 11 sales rep Bobbye Maxey was just as shocked when we told her what was on her phone.
"I would have thought a virus, but nothing like that," said Bobbye.
Test results show her phone was carrying a bacteria called staphylococcus aureus. Willingham says it can cause boils, blood poisoning and staph infections. "If there was an open sore, a zit or something, they could get infected that way," said Willingham.
"I guess I'll be more careful where I lay my phone from now on," said Bobbye.
She wasn't the only one. You'll never guess who else's phone was just as dirty.
"I've got staph aureus. That's the one that causes staph infections," said Willingham - the same guy doing out tests for us.
Afterwards, he cleaned his phone just to see if that made a difference at all. "Twenty-four hours later and after cleaning with an alcohol prep and it's only normal skin flora," Willingham said.
Out of 18 samples, only three cell phones were carrying a bacteria that could make you sick. What about viruses? The Texas Department of State Health Services says the flu virus can stay on a hard surface for up to eight hours. You can get the flu from someone else's phone by touching it, and then rubbing your eyes, putting something in your mouth, or touching your nose.
The bottom line is clean your cell phone. You can do so by using a simple alcohol wipe.
Is Your Cell Phone Dirty? - A NewsChannel 11 Investigation