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Cellular biology

Lezlie Lowe gets phone sickness.



One more reason to hate the clinging ringing annoyance of cellphones: facial boils.

Pneumonia’s a danger too. Oh! And meningitis. But the fear of a plain-Jane boil festering on my cheek is enough incentive for me to scrub down my mobile phone every couple of days.

Cellphones, see, are carriers of an inordinate amount of bacteria, according to a January 18 blog blurb from Wired magazine’s Gadget Lab. The bloggers cite a study by a UK mobile-phone retailer claiming cellphones are typically populated by more germs than door handles, keyboards, shoe soles or—wait for it—yes, toilet seats.

Bacteria, it is surmised, love the warmth of our battery-powered yak-yak devices. (They’re probably partying to the Justin Timberlake ringtones, too.) They live and breed in the phones and pick up brethren as we toss them onto dirty cafe table tops, or flip them into filthy coat pockets. Then, staphylococcus aureus—AKA Germy McGerm—hops onto us every time we ring someone to say we’ll be five minutes late.

Call me freaked out.

I try not to let my fastidiousness slip toward the Howard Hughesian, but I do have a healthy fear of germs. I am a frequent rabid hand-washer, who keeps emergency soap leaves in her purse. After washing in public washrooms, I only touch the taps with paper towels: the doorknob, too. I will often slide the garbage can towards the door with my foot so I can deposit the filth-covered paper towels there as I dash out.

This is the part of the column where many of you will start to laugh uncomfortably, close the paper and begin to back away. It’s OK. I know how some of you may be feeling about us clean freaks—the people who sneeze into our elbows and refuse to eat food that has touched the floor. But in your snickering, we will find our triumph.

Because if germophobia is an illness, it’s a healthy kind of sick.

The Public Health Agency of Canada concurs.

Last week, the federal bureau announced a plea for Canadians to stop shaking hands and stop greeting each other with cheek kisses in an effort to halt the onward march of Germy McGerm’s cousin, Nory McNorovirus, who causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Handshaking and kiss-kissing will be tough habits to break. But what about those disease-stuffed cellphones? I get the feeling we’re a little more attached to them. Still, they’ll have to go.

And after cellphones it’ll be purses. Have you read that study about the bottoms of purses? People put them in puddles on bathroom floors and then hike them up onto the kitchen counter at home—where they butter their toast—to root through for stuff (probably pneumonia-germ-laden cellphones). After purses it’ll be all our pens, notebooks and laptop computers. After that? Anything that touches public seating. No more clothes! Wait! No more chairs, either.

There is hope. We need not face a future of going to the Trident to stand naked sipping espresso from single-use Dixie cups. The answer is radical. But extreme situations merit extreme solutions. Let’s try washing stuff. We could ease into it by using soap and water on our hands.

The number one basic infection-control measure for preventing the spread of avian flu, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is proper hand-washing (note: not flicking your soap-free hands under cold water and leaving your poop germs all over the taps as you turn them off). Ditto for SARS.

Sounds crazy, I know. But it just might work. And if not, the Public Health Agency of Canada might soon have to confiscate your cellphone. Now that’s a threat.

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