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1 in 6 Cellphones in Britain Contaminated With 'Fecal Matter'

FRIDAY, Oct. 14 (HealthDay News) -- One in six cellphones in Britain may be contaminated with fecal matter that can spread E. coli, likely because so many people don't wash their hands properly after using the toilet, a new study contends.

The findings also suggest that many people lie about their hygiene habits, according to the researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London.

The study authors went to 12 cities and collected 390 samples from the cellphones and hands of volunteers, who were also asked about their hand-washing habits.

Ninety-five percent of the participants told the researchers that they washed their hands with soap and water where possible. However, lab tests revealed that 92 percent of phones and 82 percent of hands had bacteria on them. The researchers also found that 16 percent of hands and 16 percent of cellphones harbored E. coli bacteria, which is found in feces and can cause serious illness.

The study was released to coincide with Global Handwashing Day on Oct. 15.

"This study provides more evidence that some people still don't wash their hands properly, especially after going to the toilet. I hope the thought of having E. coli on their hands and phones encourages them to take more care in the bathroom -- washing your hands with soap is such a simple thing to do but there is no doubt it saves lives," Dr. Val Curtis, a hygiene expert at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and U.K. campaign leader for Global Handwashing Day, said in a school news release.

"Our analysis revealed some interesting results from around the U.K. While some cities did much better than others, the fact that E. coli was present on phones and hands in every location shows this is a nationwide problem. People may claim they wash their hands regularly but the science shows otherwise," Dr. Ron Cutler, of Queen Mary, University of London, said in the news release.

Hand-washing with soap can prevent a number of illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses.

More information

The American Society for Microbiology has more about the importance of hand-washing.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, news release, Oct. 14, 2011

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