Taking your phone to the toilet could give you coronavirus

With coronavirus all over the news and people on public transport covering their faces with masks, it certainly seems like the time to be on high alert.

But although the masks may give you a false sense of security, and a trusty bottle of hand sanitiser makes you feel better about touching the escalator handrail, these techniques haven’t got a patch on simply washing your hands.

Public Health England has advised that washing your hands for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice is the best protection you’ve got.

And people are clearly taking that advice seriously, with shelves of soap now looking mighty empty as people stock up in case of a more widespread outbreak.

Obviously it’s a good thing that we’ve all gotten to grips with washing our hands – if not a little worrying that everybody wasn’t doing it before. But, there could be a fatal flaw in the plan, and it’s all to do with your mid-morning toilet break Facebook scrolling.

When you take your phone to the toilet with you, wash your hands after you finish, then pick your phone back up again, you’re essentially just re-transferring the same bacteria as before onto your hands.

Professor William Keevil, from the University of Southampton said: ‘You could be washing your hands, but if you start touching your smartphone screen and then touch your face that is a potential route of infection.’

Dr Perpetua Emeagi is alecturer in Human Biology and Biological Sciences at Liverpool Hope University.

She warns that scientific studies have shown there are up to 17,000 bacterial strains on the average phone, ten times more than the average toilet seat.

They can also last a week on hard surfaces, which means your trusty phone is pretty much a breeding ground for viruses.

A study by Birmingham based digital marketing agency JellyBean last year found that 54% of Brits have admitted to taking their phone to the loo in the past. That’s more than 25 million British adults checking the ‘gram in the can.

Given the number of bacteria on our phones, and the frequency with which we touch them, it’s inevitable that they’d be major carriers for diseases if we’re not washing them as well as our hands.

It’s not just the touching of our phones after using the loo either, but their mere presence in the bathroom.

Insurance company Direct Line found recently that these bathroom phone users log on in the toilet for 12 minutes a day, the equivalent of 73 hours or three days per year. That’s a long time for them to be around poo particles.

Dr Emeagi, who is teaching ‘public health’ and ‘vaccine development’, says that one of the biggest risks of contamination is from loo flushing – as particles of bacteria – potentially including the coronavirus – are ‘aerosolised’ from the toilet boil and thrown into the air before settling on your prized gadget.

She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s not just a case of what you’re transmitting from your hands to the phone.

‘You also have to consider the effects of toilet flushing. When you flush the toilet, you release aerosol particles, which could be viruses or bacteria.

‘Recent reports have suggested that COVID-19 can be spread through faeces. And so aerosolised particles of poo are a genuine risk when it comes to the spread of Coronavirus.’

It’s one thing to be careless when it’s your own health you’re risking, but Dr Emeagi notes that plenty of people also share phones with their children, potentially putting them at risk.

She adds: ‘It’s a common habit – parents get in from work and give the phone to the children to play with, particularly around mealtimes.

‘This is another way that infections like Coronavirus can spread incredibly easily to the entire household.’

Before you throw your phone into a vat of boiling water to keep it from contaminating your home, there are some pretty easy fixes for this.

The first is to simply stop taking your phone into the bathroom, and continue to practice good hygiene by washing your hands thoroughly.

The second is to clean your phone regularly with ethanol wipes or hand sanitiser on a tissue. Regularly, in this case, means pretty much every time you touch it, which may seem excessive, but stops cross-contamination.

Plus, when you do go to the toilet, close the lid before flushing, to stop these poo particles making their way around your bathroom (and potentially even onto your toothbrush, ugh).

Meanwhile, Dr Emeagi says the best method of containing coronavirus is to assume that everyone else is a potential carrier.

She says: ‘When I took my driving test, my instructor said I should imagine that every other driver on the road is insane and that I am the only sane driver and I should drive properly.

‘And you should adopt this outlook when it comes to Coronavirus. Don’t assume that everyone else is washing their hands, or disinfecting surfaces.

‘Take actions into your own hands and you’ll decrease your own risk of infection.’

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