NEWS

Diseases find perfect new high-tech homes to lurk in

There is now ample evidence that the radiation emitted by mobile telephones damages the DNA in human cells and, after 10 years of research, scientists are beginning to find evidence linking certain diseases to the use of these phones. According to British studies recently published by the American television network ABC, mobile phones often carry more germs than toilet seats. Just like the keyboards on our computers, mobile telephones are ideal breeding grounds for tens of thousands of microorganisms, such as viruses and bacteria, for the simple reason that these thrive in warm conditions. A layer of heat is formed between the surface of the phones and our faces and hands, an ideal environment for germs to thrive in and, each time we reach for the telephone, we unwittingly help these bacteria to reproduce. Moreover, we never expose our phones to conditions that could kill the microorganisms – extreme heat or cold. On the contrary, our pockets provide another perfect environment for them to grow in. Microbiologist Dr Charles Gerba found that telephones can spread the staphylococcus bacteria that can cause anything from skin infections to meningitis. He checked 25 types of mobile phones and found staphylococcus bacteria on half of them. Some firms, such as Motorola, have begun to use an antimicrobial coating on their products. «It is certain that if we carry out a cell culture, we will find microbes but, in practice there is no real risk of infection unless someone has a cut on the skin or if one’s immune system is weak,» said Athanassios Tsakris, a professor of microbiology at Athens University’s Medical School. Similar risks are involved when using keyboards. As they are always at room temperature and are difficult to clean because of the gaps between the keys, they are full of germs from the oil and sweat on fingers, which are then passed on. The new technological environment might not pose any particular threat to public health, but it has created new sites of infection, calling for greater care with personal hygiene, particular in the work environment where there are large numbers of these appliances. «I think it is an exaggeration to take particular safety measures, such as using anti-bacterial wipes. But we must not forget to wash our hands after using the telephone or any other of these appliances. Even the common cold can be passed on in this way,» said Tsakris.