This "opportunistic pathogen," as described by one team of microbiologists, works its way into a wide variety of settings. It requires little nutrition and can tolerate a range of settings, from hospital equipment and sinks, to community pools and even your talking device. In a study of 400 cell phones, Nigerian researchers found the bacteria were among the most common lurking on the gadgets [sources: Lister et al., Akinyemi].
What separates Pseudomonas aeruginosa from other items on this list is its amazing ability to resist treatment after infection. The more severe of these infections typically occur in hospitals and particularly among intensive care patients [source: Lister et al.]. That sounds like a good enough reason to make the ICU a cell-phone-free zone.
Author's Note: Top 10 Germs on Your Smartphone
They say urine is surprisingly clean. Some folks use it to clean wounds. In space, astronauts even transform it into water for drinking and cooking. I think I'll stick with the stuff out of the tap for now when I get thirsty, but I'm relieved to know that I may have sterilized my cell phone when I accidentally dropped it in the toilet last week.
- Akinyemi, Kabir. "The potential role of mobile phones in the spread of bacterial infections." The Journal of Infection in Developing Countries. 2009 (Aug. 11, 2014) www.jidc.org/index.php/journal/article/download/556/291
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Diphtheria - Fact Sheet for Parents." July 8, 2013 (Aug. 12, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/diphtheria/fs-parents.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "E.coli (Escherichia coli)." (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/general/index.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Mold." (Aug. 11, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm#mold
- Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy. "Coagulase-Negative Staphylococci Overview." (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.cddep.org/resistancemap/overview/CoNS#.U-oC02NEKo2
- Coil, David. "Would Rather Lick a Toilet Seat Than a Cellphone." Slate. Jan. 14, 2014 (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2014/01/bacteria_in_the_media_toilet_seats_aren_t_germy_and_cellphones_aren_t_dangerous.html
- Famurewa, Oladiran and David, O.M. "Cell Phone: A Medium of Transmission of Bacterial Pathogens." World Rural Observations. April 6, 2009 (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.sciencepub.net/rural/0102/wro09_0102_10_69_72.pdf
- Hawkes, Steve. "Smartphones and tablets harbour more germs than toilet seats." Telegraph. Sept. 17, 2013 (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/10313619/Smartphones-and-tablets-harbour-more-germs-than-toilet-seats.html
- Lister, Philip. Daniel J. Wolter, and Nancy D. Hanson. "Antibacterial-Resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa: Clinical Impact and Complex Regulation of Chromosomally Encoded Resistance Mechanisms." Clinical Microbiology Review. October 2009 (Aug. 11, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2772362/
- Locke, Tim. "Nasty Bugs Lurking on Your Cell Phone." WebMD. Oct. 14, 2011 (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/news/20111014/nasty-bugs-lurking-on-your-cell-phone
- Mayo Clinic. "MRSA Infection." (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mrsa/basics/definition/con-20024479
- Munoz, Gabriella. "Mobile phones are a window to the germs that live in your body." Science Alert June 26, 2014 (Aug. 12, 2014) http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20142606-25753.html
- Murphy, John. "Medical Microbiology. 4th edition." University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. 1996 (Aug. 12, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7971/
- Murphy, Katie. "Cleaning the Mobile Germ Warehouse." The New York Times. Jan. 1, 2014 (Aug. 11, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/02/technology/personaltech/cleaning-the-mobile-germ-warehouse.html?_r=0
- National Library of Medicine. "Clostridium difficile." (Aug. 11, 2014) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/clostridiumdifficileinfections.html
- National Library of Medicine. "Streptococcal Infections." (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/streptococcalinfections.html
- Perricone, Kathleen. "Anderson Cooper learns he has 'fecal strep' on his cell phone during segment on 'Anderson' show." New York Daily News. Oct. 21, 2011 (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/anderson-cooper-learns-fecal-strep-cell-phone-segment-anderson-show-article-1.965430
- Steckelberg, James. "Male yeast infection: Can I get it from my girlfriend?" Mayo Clinic. Sept. 18, 2012 (Aug. 11, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/male-yeast-infection/expert-answers/faq-20058464
- Tagoe, Daniel Dr., Vincent K Gyande and Evans O Ansah."Bacterial Contamination of Mobile Phones: When Your Mobile Phone Could Transmit More Than Just a Call." (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.webmedcentral.com/article_view/2294
- Ulger, Fatma, Saban Esen, Ahmet Dilek, Keramettin Yanik, Murat Gunaydin and Hakan Leblebicioglu. "Are we aware how contaminated our mobile phones with nosocomial pathogens?" Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials. March 6, 2009 (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.ann-clinmicrob.com/content/8/1/7
- Van Gilder Cooke, Sonia. "Study: Your Cellphone is Teeming with Germs." Time. October 27, 2012 (Aug. 10, 2014) http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/10/27/study-your-cellphone-is-teeming-with-germs/
- Washington State Department of Health. "Coliform Bacteria in Drinking Water." (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/DrinkingWater/Contaminants/Coliform
Why do we need a germ bank? HowStuffWorks looks at the need for a 'good' germ repository.