Why you should think twice about reaching for your phone at lunch

23 November 2020

Does a doorhandle or a keyboard have more germs?

IMB's Dr Alysha Elliott previously ran an experiment swabbing people's hands and common workplace surfaces to expose some of the germiest places around the office.

The swabs were done before COVID changed people's attitudes to handwashing and sanitising, and examined handprints both before and after sanitising and washing hands

"Some of the germiest surfaces were a mobile phone screen, a computer keyboard and a kitchen bench, while door handles, desks and chairs were much cleaner," Dr Elliott said.

Dr Elliott, from the IMB Centre for Superbug Solutions, took samples from people's hands both before and after washing, and also from surfaces such as lift buttons, door handles and office kitchen microwaves.

"We found a range of microbes on everyone's hands and on all surfaces, though some places were surprisingly cleaner than others," Dr Elliott said.

"Microbes are the oldest life form on Earth and they can be found everywhere and on everything we touch.

"We can pick up a range of microbes, such as bacteria and fungi (including yeasts and moulds), during our daily routine.

"The results are a good visual reminder of the need to wash your hands, as cleaning thoroughly with soap and water reduced the number of microbes on all hands we tested.

View the swab sample results in the image gallery below (story continues after gallery).

Dr Elliott is head of microbiology and screening for the Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery (CO-ADD), a global initiative to find new drugs to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

She emphasised that it was important to remember that not all bacteria are harmful.

"Humans carry bacterial colonies from our heads to our toes and the vast majority of these are harmless or indeed beneficial to human health," Dr Elliott said.

"However, washing our hands after using the toilet, changing a baby and before eating food is a simple, affordable and effective way to reduce the risk of picking up or passing on germs which could lead to infections such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and influenza."

Story first published 15 October 2015, updated 23 November 2020.