Friday, October 26, 2012

‘Reservoirs of pathogens’. (That would be your smartphone.)

I haven’t gone so f as to put on a surgical mask and pull on a pair of latex gloves.

But I did just swab my laptop and Blackberry with isopropyl alcohol.

That’s thanks to reading an article in the WSJ that asked the ultra important question: Is Your Smartphone Making You Sick? 

Well, there are actually ways in which my smartphone is making me sick.

For one thing, I spend altogether too much time checking my e-mail on it. Too much of which is spam that has nastily hijacked the names of my sisters and is coming my way with way too many infomercials on fat burning drugs. Not that I wouldn’t like to burn me some fat, and not that my sisters don’t know this. But I really resent spammers hijacking my sisters’ names. Maybe it’s time for me to start looking at these jamokes – the spammers, not my sisters – and outing the ones that are in the States and/or at least marginally reputable. You guys leave me and my sistahs alone!

For another, I spend altogether too much time checking on absolutely critical-in-the-moment information like where was the Anne Hathaway movie Passengers filmed (Vancouver); how many home-runs has Jim Thome hit (612 – a lot more than Ted Williams; how about that?); and when was Boston tourist-trappy restaurant Durgin Park founded (1827; sometimes on your quest, you find out TMI, like the info that the guy that owned Durgin when I worked there is known for “enhancing the restaurant's national reputation.” What was not mentioned was his unleashing a reign of terror on those of us who worked there.)

Finally, I’m sick that I even have a Blackberry, which I have to admit is nowhere near as good as an iPhone when it comes to surfing the web. So information that takes me a minute to fumble around for when I’m looking for it, takes a nano second for everyone I know who’s got an iPhone, which includes those afore-unmentioned sisters of mine. But since I got this variant of a Blackberry last November – too lazy at that point to switch from the devil of a smartphone I knew - I can’t justify jettisoning it for an iPhone (or a Droid device) quite yet. Especially since I need to break down and get an iPad before much longer.

But this sort of heartsickness is not what the WSJ was talking about. They’re talkin’ sick sick.

"Some things we think are personal are actually more public than we imagine." Bacteria from a phone can cause flu, pinkeye or diarrhea, says Dr. [Jeffrey] Cain [the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians].

I did have an exceptionally bad cold-flu thing during the summer of 2011. Could my Blackberry have been the Typhoid Mary?

And pinkeye and diarrhea? No problem with either of those lately, but it sounds like you could end up with a trifecta of mobile device maladies.

The bad news – other than the potential for an inanimate object to give you pinkeye – is that:

…there is a disconnect between what doctors and medical researchers advise and what device makers suggest for phone sanitizing.

In other words, if you’re removing 100% of the germs, you’re probably damaging the screen coating. (Hmmmm.  I regularly use Staples Monitor Wipes, which I now see promise to do a streak free, alcohol free removal of dust, dirt and fingerprints, but says nothing about germs. Alcohol does the trick with germs, but it’s not good for the screens. Oh, what’s a smartphone user to do?)

One reason why smartphones are such little germ vectors is that we’re keeping them with us wherever we go – bed, gym, restaurant, and – as we have all no doubt witnessed in public places – incredibly vile restrooms. Which means that:

"We're feeding the little creatures," says Michael Schmidt, a professor and vice chairman of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. "We've all seen that greasy smear [on the touch screen]. Where there is grease, there are bugs."

Lab tests conducted on a bunch of Chicago office phones (randomly selected), showed:

…abnormally high numbers of coliforms, a bacteria indicating fecal contamination. Of the eight phones tested by HML Labs of Muncie, Ind., there were between about 2,700 and 4,200 units of coliform bacteria. In drinking water, the limit is less than 1 unit per 100 ml of water.

"The results are pretty bad," said Dr. Donald Hendrickson, president of HML Labs and professor emeritus of medical microbiology at Ball State University. He says the results suggest a lack of hand-washing and proper hygiene.

Another study – this one done on 100 cellphones owned by college students – found:

… them to be "veritable reservoirs of pathogens" that can make you sick.

The good news is that there are cleaning solutions coming to market that will handle the germs without harming the screen, including UV disinfectant wants and skins that are more bacteria resistant.  Thus our smartphones and iPads are begetting a whole new set of products that we didn’t need – and could  not have imagined - a few years back.

On the other hand, aren’t we learning the being exposed to some level of bacteria is a good thing? Isn’t that what probiotics are all about?

Maybe having a germy smartphone will help us build up our resistance. (What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, etc.)

I used to think that the biggest threats that smartphones posed were those that stemmed from the obviously dangerous practice of texting and surfing while driving. Now there’s pinkeye to worry about.

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