WAUSAU (WAOW) -
Many of us use electronic devices every day, from cell phones to computers and tablets.
While we swipe and click away, these devices can become home to bacteria that can make us sick. We wanted to test a few of these electronics to see what's growing, and how we can make sure it's nothing dangerous.
"We are going to be taking an environmental culture," said Jennifer Geiss, a medical technologist at Aspirus hospital in Wausau.
We took a tablet, activity bracelet, mouse and keyboard, and a cell phone to the lab at the hospital. Lab technicians start with a swab test and wipe down the most popular spots.
"We want to have it moist in order to pick up bacteria and everything is sterile," said Geiss.
She takes the swab under a hood and wipes it onto a petri dish.
"If there is bacteria on there, it's going to make it nice and isolated out on the plate,” said Geiss. “So when it starts to grow, we'll have nice colonies that we can identify."
Once on the plate, it goes into an incubator that's kept at body temperature. She does this for all the electronics. It takes two days for the bacteria to show.
Then, the results are in.
"We identified the organisms that were growing," said Cindy Geiss, a medical technologist.
"You're bracelet was the worst,” she said. “We counted them there were 41 different bacteria."
The owner did admit to not cleaning the bracelet for a while. The bacteria on it shows up in colonies.
"The little bitty colony in there that's called dipthroid," said Geiss.
But not to worry.
"All of this is normal skin flora,” she said.
That's bacteria that can make you sick. After seeing the results, the owner decided to clean that bracelet with rubbing alcohol as recommended.
Next is the cell phone.
"The cell phone was really clean," said Geiss.
Surprisingly not a single colony. Even the technician was shocked!
"I'm surprised," she said.
The owner didn't clean it before testing.
"Well you know you just get normal flora," said Geiss.
Up next is the tablet. It comes back with two colonies.
"It's a strep that causes greening of the red blood cells, and this is normal skin flora also," said Geiss.
Finally, a keyboard and mouse combo shared by a number of people. The results?
"Just all normal flora," said Geiss.
All five items did not have anything that could make you sick. Technicians say one reason could be how some electronics are made.
"They're usually a glass surface or a hard surface or a non-porus surface, and they're dry so bacteria have a hard time growing and surviving on a non-porus surface," said Geiss.
Unlike the activity bracelet.
"The bracelet you're washing your hands and it gets wet, and that bacteria likes to stay in there, especially when it's touching your skin,” said Geiss. “It'll survive longer."
We even got a microscopic look. The different types of bacteria found have different shapes and colors.
Even though our electronics didn't have sickening results, lab technicians say there are still risks. For those with compromised immune systems, even normal bacteria can be harmful.
Of course, they say these are only five items, and they're sure they would find pathogens on an electronic eventually.
Technicians say the most important step in prevention of harmful bacteria is simple.
"The biggest thing is wash your hands," said Geiss.
Lab technicians say another easy way to keep your electronics clean is spraying Windex on a paper towel to wipe them off.