Your phone could make you very sick

Monday May 27 2019

Samsung Note 7 mobile phone

The phones were found to be contaminated with 12 bacteria after being swabbed and tested, with the most prevalent, Staphylococcus, which is commonly found on skin and hair. PHOTO | ED JONES | AFP 

ELIZABETH MERAB
By ELIZABETH MERAB
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Dirty money and mobile phones pose a great risk to your health, researchers have warned.

Money, especially low denomination currencies, the scientists say, are causing more diarrheal diseases among Kenyans who are being exposed to food borne germs in hotels and other food joints.

FOOD HANDLERS

The study carried, out among 395 food handlers in 15 different types of outlets in Nairobi County, by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), and US Army Medical Research Unit — Kenya show that because they are rarely cleaned, money and mobile phones act as reservoirs of germs that cause food poisoning.

Having tested money in all denominations from Sh1 coins to Sh1,000 notes in circulation within Nairobi, the report revealed that among coins, Sh5, Sh10 and Sh20 were dirtiest, followed by Sh50, Sh100 and Sh200 notes.

 “Most of the money denominations and phones were contaminated with pathogenic micro-organisms,” the study findings presented at the 7th East African Health and Scientific Conference held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in March states.

Worse still, food handlers, especially waiters and cooks do not observe hygiene after answering their phones. At the time of the survey, 34 of the participants were found to be sick, having been diagnosed with coughs, pneumonia and inflammation of the stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis).

These diseases not only cause a problem to the patients, but they are prone to being transferred to the food being handled by the sick waiter or cook.

In addition, more than 60 per cent did not wash hands after touching money or using their phones. Normally, food handlers should not be the same people handling money.

“Food handlers and the general public should be sensitised on the risks involved in handling food after touching money and cell phones,” warns the study.

SKIN INFECTIONS

In 2009, Kemri did a similar study in Nairobi and found money highly-contaminated with faecal organisms. Most contaminated were coins collected from butchers, followed closely by roadside maize roasters and food kiosks.

According to Dr Richard Korir, a research officer at Kemri’s Centre for Microbiology Research and corresponding author of the study, lack of adherence to hand washing and sanitation hygiene is leading to transfer of these germs into the food served to oblivious consumers.

The study was conducted and submitted by a master’s student at JKUAT who looked at different bacteria found in the environment, foods, intestines, and skin of both people and animals.

Although most strains of these bacteria are harmless, others can cause diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, food poisoning, and skin infections.

“Sh1,000 is the least contaminated because it is the least used, while the Sh1 coin is also less dirty as its value has depreciated and therefore less used,” noted Dr Korir.

The most prevalent micro-organism found in all the denominations was staphylococcus species, known to cause skin, heart and bone infections, food poisoning, pneumonia and toxic shock in humans.

Also found in the money was Escherichia coli (E. coli), bacteria found in the environment, foods, and intestines of people and animals. Most strains are harmless, but others can make you sick.

Interestingly, Dr Korir said, compared to money, phones are worse.

“Many people do not perceive phones as dirty or sources of contamination, and therefore, almost never observe hand hygiene after using them,” he said.

The phones were found to be contaminated with 12 bacteria after being swabbed and tested, with the most prevalent, Staphylococcus, which is commonly found on skin and hair.