The flu virus is ripping through America at warp speed this winter, sacking even the healthiest guys with crippling body aches, sky-high fevers, and sidelining nausea. Influenza is über-contagious and transmitted primarily through the air – sneezing, coughing – and via personal contact, such as shaking hands and touching contaminated doorknobs. But the virus has found another sneaky mode of transport: cellphones, smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices.
"We use our mobile phones more than we did five or even two years ago," says Dr. Geeta Nayyar, AT&T's chief medical information officer. "We hold them close to our nose and mouth and take them everywhere we go. Therefore, we've introduced an object that's better positioned to carry the virus than other things we touch frequently, such as pens."
Nayyar says mobile devices are particularly effective flu ferries because germs generally dwell longer on plastic and similar hard surfaces than on fabric and other soft materials. Plus, our phone hygiene typically stinks. "Most of us don't think twice about sneezing or coughing on our phone without stopping to clean it," she says. "Or perhaps we'll wash our hands after coughing, but then pick up a dirty or already-contaminated phone right afterward. Same goes for a tablet."
The best ways to avoid influenza remain the same: Get a flu shot, avoid sick people, and wash your hands frequently. But to curb your chances of picking up the virus from a mobile device, Nayyar says to never, ever use it in the restroom and wash or disinfect it often – we like pocket-and-touchscreen-friendly products such as Wireless Wipes – because you never know if it has come in contact with a contaminated surface or if someone else has used it when you weren't around. Also, use a hands-free headset for phone calls whenever possible. "Headsets minimize keypad-to-face exposure, which can reduce the virus' chances of spreading," Nayyar says.