About microbes

Do you know with whom you are sharing your phone?

These images of the bacteriological growth were found on mobile phone imprints by scientists at the University of Surrey in the UK.  Among the culprits: Staphylococcus aureus, boils, sinusitis and food poisoning. While non-smartphones harboured bacteria mainly on the keyboard, touch screens smartphones were absolutely covered in microbes. These British researchers found 18 times more bacteria on mobile phones than on the flush handle in a men’s restroom!

What is a microbe?

Microbes or microorganisms are living cells that are too small to be seen with the naked eye and must be viewed through a microscope. The naked eye is only able to detect the presence of microbes once they have multiplied by hundreds of thousands. Under the right conditions, microbes can double in number every 15-20 minutes. Bacteria, algae and fungi or mold are all examples of microorganisms.


Billions of years ago, bacteria were among the earliest forms of life on Earth. Today, they are present in the soil, in the air, in water, on plants and even on animals and humans.

There’s no escaping the presence of bacteria and, in fact, many of the bacteria we encounter are beneficial to the environment and to the human body. For example, they help us to digest food. However, some bacteria can adversely affect our health and everyday lives. Below you can read about a few commonly found bacteria on touch screen devices.


Escherichia coli, usually called E. coli, refers to a large group of bacteria found in the lower intestine of humans and animals. Some strains of E. coli are harmless; however others such as E. coli O157: H7 can make people sick, causing severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Serious complications of an E. coli infection can result in kidney failure. This dangerous bacteria was implicated in serious cases of food poisoning such as the fatal O157 outbreak in Germany in June 2011.

E. coli infections can also spread easily from person to person; certain people are more likely than others to get sick. Infections can occur among people of all ages, however symptoms are likely to be more severe among the very young and the elderly. Pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are also at high risk of developing serious complications.

Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria frequently found in the human respiratory tract and on the skin. It is not always pathogenic; this bacteria is a common cause of a range of illnesses, from minor skin infections, such as pimples, impetigo, boils (furuncles), cellulitis folliculitis, carbuncles, scalded skin syndrome, and abscesses, to life-threatening diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, osteomyelitis, endocarditis, toxic shock syndrome (TSS), bacteremia, and sepsis. Its incidence ranges from skin, soft tissue, respiratory, bone, joint, endovascular to wound infections. It is still one of the five most common causes of nosocomial infections (hospital associated infections) and is often the cause of post-surgical wound infections.

Methicillin-resistant S. aureus, abbreviated MRSA is one of a number of greatly feared strains of S. aureus which have become resistant to most antibiotics. Anyone can get MRSA. Infections range from mild to very serious and can even be life-threatening. MRSA is contagious and can be spread to other people through skin-to- skin contact. If one person in a family is infected with MRSA, the rest of the family may get it.

Proper hygiene is key to preventing the spread of bacteria and to minimising the risk of infection!