Touchscreens have a bad reputation – especially in times of the corona crisis. Even the Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) warns of the cell phone as a “bacterial spinner”. A recent article on digital health said, “On average, we tap our smartphone 2,500 times a day.” Every time, germs, bacteria and pathogens would be transferred to the surfaces of the devices.
The topic is not new: in 2011 British researchers reported that every sixth cell phone was contaminated with residues. In 2013, the digital association Bitkom wrote that only one in four regularly cleans their cell phones. Cell phones could transmit germs, it was said. And in 2015 TÜV Rheinland warned of germs, fungi and bacteria, some of which even stayed on the display for several months at room temperature. The TÜV recommends cleaning the devices with special hygiene cleaners.
In view of the corona crisis, there are numerous tips that rely on such studies and recommend not only cleaning the smartphones and tablets regularly, but also disinfecting them. iPhone maker Apple has even updated its cleaning instructions.
In fact, such recommendations are at least questionable, say hygiene experts. “Mobile phones are much less contaminated than you think,” says microbiologist Markus Egert from Furtwangen University, who researches everyday hygiene. In a study published in 2015, he found that there is only one bacterium on average on a square centimeter touchscreen. He did not examine viruses on cell phones, “but it can also be assumed that these are not virus hurlers,” says Egert.
He currently sees “no need” to disinfect the smartphone, says the Medical Director of the German Advice Center for Hygiene (BZH), Ernst Tabori. Mobile phones are usually a very personal item and are not passed on. “The cell phone is a reflection of one’s own cleanliness or germs.” It is therefore more important to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, says Tabori.
Wiping with a damp cloth is sufficient in most cases
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) also recommends “good hand hygiene” in response to the question of whether there is a risk of getting infected with the corona virus via surfaces or objects. The transmission options via surfaces would depend on many different factors.
The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) wrote in its questionnaire: There are currently no documented cases in which people have been infected with the novel corona virus or other corona viruses through contact with contaminated objects. In principle, transmissions via surfaces that were previously contaminated with viruses are “conceivable due to smear infections”. The viruses could survive two to three days on dry stainless steel or plastic surfaces and remain infectious. Nevertheless, the BfR sees “no need for healthy people to use disinfectants in everyday life”.
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Microbiologist Egert thinks it makes sense to clean the smartphone or cell phone every now and then, regardless of the corona pandemic. “But it is completely sufficient to wipe the device with a slightly damp cloth or cleaning cloth for glasses,” he says. This would remove most of the fat and microorganisms from the touchscreen. Even the “unconscious, mechanical wiping” on the pants or on the T-shirt helps in everyday use to keep the cell phone clean. Only those who work in a clinical environment and take their device with them must also clean and disinfect their smartphone or tablet.
You can wipe the iPhone – as Apple recommends – with a cloth moistened with disinfectant to calm your conscience. But it is absolutely not necessary, say both BZH boss Tabori and Egert. He adds: “It is not good for the cell phone and at best shows how robust Apple devices are.” Otherwise, when using smartphones and tablets, as in many other areas of life during the corona crisis, apply: hand washing, hand washing, hand washing.
Note: The RKI has its “Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Corona Virus” after the article was published on March 18. changed. It no longer states that transmission via inanimate surfaces has so far been undocumented. We have adapted the text accordingly.