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About one in six cellphones tested had traces of E. coli bacteria from fecal matter, a new study released for Global Handwashing Day suggests.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London travelled to 12 cities in Britain, took 390 samples from cellphones and hands and then analyzed the samples in the lab to record the type and number of germs.

The findings included:

– Although 95 per cent of people said they washed their hands with soap where possible, 92 per cent of phones and 82 per cent of hands had bacteria on them.

– 16 per cent of hands and 16 per cent of phones were found to harbour E. coli bacteria that are associated with stomach upsets.

– Those who had bacteria on their hands were three times as likely to have bacteria on their phones.

“The mobile phone is a lovely area for some of the bacteria that we actually started to grow,” said Dr. Ron Cutler of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“As you speak on your phone too much, it heats up.”

Fecal bacteria can survive on hands and surfaces for hours, especially in warmer temperatures away from sunlight; it is easily transferred by touch to door handles, food and cellphones, the researchers said.

If ingested, E.coli can cause diarrhea, extreme abdominal cramping and pain, nausea and vomiting, and in extreme cases, death.

A strain of E. coli O157 was implicated in a fatal outbreak of food poisoning in Germany in June.

Cleaning and phones

Public health experts advise people to wash their hands carefully after using the washroom.

Handwashing tips include:

– Take time to wash properly — long enough the sing the Happy birthday song twice.

– Remove jewelry.

– Wash both the front and back of hands.

– Scrub fingers including under fingernails.

– Use soap and water.

In Calgary, Kevin Wolf was an eager iPhone enthusiast waiting in line for a new model.

“I bet you a lot of people use their phones in the bathroom,” Wolf said when learning of the British findings. “That’s really gross. Thanks for putting that in my mind.”

Farther down the line, the results didn’t seem to bother Joe Eisenlohr.

“As far as I am concerned, probably everything in the world has fecal matter on it. Just wash your hands and don’t put things in your mouth I guess.”

Besides handwashing, CBC medical specialist Dr. Karl Kabasele suggested keeping cellphones and workstations clean by wiping them down with solutions that contain at least 60 per cent alcohol to cut down on the spread of germs.

Every year, 3.5 million children under the age of five are killed by pneumonia and diarrheal diseases that can be prevented by handwashing, the researchers noted.

Global Handwashing Day, held on Oct. 15 every year, aims to make handwashing with soap an automatic behaviour.

The coalition behind the awareness campaign includes GlaxoSmithKline, Initial Washroom Solutions, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Sanofi Pasteur MSD, School Councils UK, Queen Mary, University of London, The Ideas Foundation and Wellcome Trust.