One in six mobile phones in Britain is contaminated with fecal matter, according to a new study by scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London, released Friday.
The British study found the largest number of contaminated phones in Birmingham, the most populous British city except for London (41 percent), but the highest proportion of E. coli present on hands (28 percent) was discovered in London. Actual levels of bacteria increased the further north the scientists went, the dirtiest city being Glasgow, where average bacterial levels on phones and hands were found to be nine times higher than in Brighton, a city in Southern England.
The most likely reason for the presence of so much potentially harmful bacteria, including E.coli, on so many cell phones is that people often fail to wash their hands properly with soap after going to the bathroom, experts concluded.
Researchers traveled to 12 cities and took some 390 samples from mobile phones and hands. Although 95 percent of people told them that they did wash their hands with soap whenever possible, 92 percent of phones and 82 percent of hands had bacteria on them, the study found. Up to sixteen percent of examined hands and 16 of phones were contaminated with E. coli.
"While some cities did much better than others, the fact that E. coli was present on phones and hands in every location shows this is a nationwide problem," Dr. Ron Cutler of Queen Mary said in a statement. "People may claim they wash their hands regularly but the science shows otherwise."
The scientists also found those who had bacteria on their hands were three times as likely to have bacteria on their phones.
E. coli (Escherichia coli) is associated with stomach upsets and can be life threatening. That harmful bacteria caused the deadly outbreak in Germany in June, when vegetables imported from Spain were blamed as the source of contamination, before scientists traced the origin of the pandemic to bean sprouts.
According to experts, fecal bacteria can survive on hands and surfaces for hours at a time, especially in warmer temperatures away from sunlight. They can be transmitted easily by actions like touching door knobs, food or phones.
The research was conducted on the occasion of the Global Handwashing Day, which is celebrated on Oct.15.
The study also revealed a tendency among Britons to lie about their hygiene habits, as well as that a majority of them still does not wash their hands properly after using the the bathroom.