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January 14, 2013

Smartphones can be flu vectors, but can be damaged by cleaners

Rarely washed, frequently shared and constantly touching your mouth, your iPhone could be spreading the flu virus, public health experts say.

But don’t be so quick to wipe it down with strong cleaners, which could ruin the touch screen.

With an early, bruising flu season walloping much of the United States, public health experts are repeating the basics for preventing the spread of the virus: Get a flu shot. Stay home when you’re feeling lousy. Wash your hands frequently. And thoroughly clean the surfaces you frequently touch.

That final suggestion would be especially sound advice for the millions of Americans with iPhones or other smartphones — items that, in the last five years, have, for many, become more indispensible than just about any other object we come into contact with.

But that same gadget — the one that helped you snag last-minute movie tickets and share the adorable video clip of a dancing parakeet — also happens to harbor many of the qualities conducive to spreading viruses and bacteria.

Doctors note that there have been only a few studies of the spread of the flu through phones, and they maintain that person-to-person contact and dirty hands remain the most common ways of spreading the flu and colds.

They also caution that people not share their phones. And they say that picking up a cellphone after, for instance, shaking hands with someone who is ailing, means that the virus or bacteria will have a short hop into your system via the phone held next to your mouth or face.

So even though your phone looks spotless, it may be teeming with pathogens, according to Professor Chuck Gerba, a microbiology professor at the University of Arizona who studies the spread of germs and viruses in homes, workplaces and public settings.

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