STUDY Mobile phones are our best friends, these days. But, colonies of pathogens thrive on them, reveals a research

If there is one thing, that’s stuck to us round-the-clock, it is our mobile phone. It is impossible to imagine a life without one these days. But next time you pick up your cell phone, check how clean it is. M.Rajesh, Assistant Professor (Zoology), The American College, cautions against mobile phones that are home to microbes. “They are storehouses of pathogens and source of cross infections. Since phones are in direct contact with our skin, they may cause severe microbial infections,” he says.

Under the guidance of Rajesh, a M.Sc. Bio-tech student of Saurashtra college Karpagam did a six month project and identified and isolated three major types of pathogens on mobile phones. These are the staphylococcus aureus -- a skin pathogen, streptococcus – causing throat infections and pseudomonas – causing skin allergies.

“There have been many studies conducted earlier in the US. But, they were all done on mobile phones used by health officials only. This is the first time, a microbial study has been done on mobiles used by common people,” says Rajesh. “We have also conducted the study on computer keyboards. But the amount of microbes are more on mobiles, as we speak into it, hold it close to our hair and ear and keep touching them with fingers. Sweat and the air that comes from the mouth while speaking on phone are the medium for microbial growth.” Rajesh has done a survey of over 50 mobile phones used by people from various walks of life. The first phase of the project commenced with taking swabs and samples. “Initially, we sterilize the phone with ethanol and then a cotton swab is rubbed on the surface. The microbes we collect in the swab are allowed to grow into colonies by providing them the nutrients,” explains Rajesh. “Later, they are classified under microscopic examination. Invariably every phone had these three microbes. Phones used by healthcare officials have more number and various other kinds of microbes.”

“The project is yet to be published but has already fetched Karpagam a career in Singapore,” beams Rajesh, who is currently doing research on reducing the effects of pesticides by using microbes. However, he points out, “Mobiles carry more microbes than even toilet seats, door knobs and keyboards. They are carriers of diseases. It’s advisable not to interchange phones and to clean them regularly.”