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Why you need to clean your smartwatch NOW: Virologist confirms that COVID-19 can survive on devices

An infectious diseases specialist has reminded people to clean their watches and smartwatches to combat coronavirus.

Professor Nigel McMillan, from Griffith University, specialises in how viruses are transmitted and told FEMAIL that people need to treat devices as an ‘extension of your hand’. 

A recent study found that coronavirus can live on plastic and some stainless steel for up to three days. 

An Infectious Diseases and Immunology specialist has revealed that you need to be very careful around your wrist watch or smartwatch with COVID-19 (stock image)

Professor Nigel McMillan (pictured) said that while the virus can live on myriad surfaces, you need to be especially careful with your watch, fitness tracker or smartwatch - which you should see as an 'extension of your hand' during the coronavirus pandemic

Professor Nigel McMillan (pictured) said that while the virus can live on myriad surfaces, you need to be especially careful with your watch, fitness tracker or smartwatch – which you should see as an ‘extension of your hand’ during the coronavirus pandemic

‘Every microorganism can live on your watch, whether it’s smart or not,’ Professor McMillan explained.

‘COVID-19 can live on any surface and the more moist it is, the longer it will live there.’

This means that smartwatches in particular – which many people wear to exercise – can be a dangerous home for diseases and infection.

HOW LONG CAN COVID-19 SURVIVE ON SURFACES?

In the air: Infectious disease researchers have found COVID-19 remains infectious in contaminated airborne respiratory droplets for at least three hours, however they have not determined whether humans produce enough of the disease in a single cough or sneeze to infect another person.

On soft, porous surfaces: COVID-19 can survive on porous surfaces like cardboard, paper, clothing and soft furnishings like pillows and Doonas for up to 24 hours. Porous surfaces allow air and water to pass through, which makes them much less likely to hold infectious volumes of the virus compared to non-porous objects like door handles, taps and phone covers.

On hard, shiny surfaces: COVID-19 has been proven to stay active on hard surfaces like glass, plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours. Hard, shiny materials are non-porous which means water, air and vapour cannot pass through and instead rest and accumulate on the surface.

World Economic Forum researchers have confirmed the virus does degrade over time, reducing the likelihood of infection the longer contaminated droplets have sat on a surface, but you should still avoid touching handles, buttons and other objects in public spaces. If unavoidable, you should avoid touching your face until you have thoroughly washed your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. 

Frequently touched household surfaces like taps, door handles, computer keyboards and toilets should be cleaned using bleach or alcohol solutions of at least 70 percent alcohol.

On hair: There is no evidence to suggest coronavirus can be carried in strands of beards or facial hair.

Professor McMillan said we should see our watches as an ‘extension of our hands’, and so we should think that every time we touch something, it has probably come into contact with our wrist watches too.

‘Often, people remember to wash their hands, but they don’t give their smartwatches in particular the same level of attention – tapping them to make payments, open notifications and check step counts,’ Professor McMillan said.  

This could lead to you ‘re-infecting’ your hands by touching an unclean device.

'COVID-19 can live on any surface and the more moist it is, the longer it will live there,' Professor McMillan said. You need to wash your smartwatch or tracker often (stock image)

‘COVID-19 can live on any surface and the more moist it is, the longer it will live there,’ Professor McMillan said. You need to wash your smartwatch or tracker often (stock image)

The best course of action for those who wear a watch, smartwatch or fitness tracker is to wash it or disinfect it regularly with an alcohol wipes.

Apple recommend you turn off your device, remove it from the charger and clean with a non-abrasive, lint-free cloth – which can be dampened with fresh water if needed.

The company dictate that soaps and other cleaning products shouldn’t be used.

Fitbit, meanwhile, say you should clean your fitness tracker using a toothbrush with rubbing alcohol, while Garmin say you should wipe the device using a cloth dampened with a mild detergent solution. 

A recent experiment conducted by ComparemyMobile found smartwatches to be the dirtiest devices we own, with more than 250 bacteria colonies per cm2 (pictured: the bacteria)

A recent experiment conducted by ComparemyMobile found smartwatches to be the dirtiest devices we own, with more than 250 bacteria colonies per cm2 (pictured: the bacteria)

A recent experiment conducted by ComparemyMobile found smartwatches to be the dirtiest devices, after their experts took swabs of smartphones, keyboards, smartwatches and video game controllers.

While the specialists were not testing for COVID-19, they were testing for three types of bacteria, in particular: coliforms (found in human waste), infection-causing staphylococci and Enterobacteriaceae (a bacterial family that includes the likes of E.Coli and Salmonella). 

Smartwatches were found to be the worst culprits, boasting more than 250 bacteria colonies per cm2, or 3,746 per cent more bacteria than a toilet seat. 

‘Our tests found that smartwatch owners should regularly be cleaning their tech, making sure to clean both the watch face and strap,’ spokesperson for ComparemyMobile Daniel Clifford said.

‘This is especially true if you use your wearable to track your fitness at the gym or when you run as this can cause them to get particularly dirty.’

The CDC's hand washing guide follows WHO's guidelines - which suggest people wash their hands at least five times a day with soap and water or hand sanitizer (pictured)

The CDC’s hand washing guide follows WHO’s guidelines – which suggest people wash their hands at least five times a day with soap and water or hand sanitizer (pictured)

What is the five-step process to perfect hand washing?

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. 
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the ‘Happy Birthday’ song from beginning to end twice. 
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water. 
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

Source: CDC

Looking after your watch will do little unless you are washing your hands well, however.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a proper method for washing your hands that will help to stop you and those around you from getting sick.

The agency recommends you wash your hands at frequent intervals to stay healthy, and advises that everyone follow five steps to ensure they are washing their hands the right way.

‘The first step is to wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap,’ the CDC said.

‘Then, lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.’

However the third step is where many people might be falling down.

The CDC recommends you scrub your hands ‘for at least 20 seconds’ – which is the same amount of time it takes to hum Happy Birthday twice.

‘Rinse your hands well under clean running water,’ the guide advises.

Finally, you should use a clean towel to dry your hands or air dry them.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food 
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea 
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound 
  • After using the toilet 
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet 
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing 
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste 
  • After handling pet food or pet treats 
  • After touching garbage

Source: CDC

Coronavirus essential guide: Your top hygiene questions answered 

Does hand-washing really work?

Yes. A new study published by the highly-respected Cochrane Database which summarises and interprets numerous studies says that handwashing cuts the chances of contracting a respiratory illness such as coronavirus by 54 per cent – the best odds of any deterrent.

So wash your hands – scrubbing every bit of skin from your wrist downwards – at every opportunity for at least 20 seconds (or for however long it takes to sing Happy Birthday in your head twice).

Should I use public transport? 

Only if necessary. If you can work from home rather than commuting, and also minimise shopping trips, you will greatly reduce your infection risk.

One recent study in Nottingham found that people who contracted the flu virus in 2011 were nearly six times more likely than others to have travelled by public transport in the five days before developing symptoms.

 lanes, trains and buses are high-risk environments for easily transmitted viruses – and Covid-19 is particularly infectious – to spread on to our hands via surfaces such as handrails, seats and handles.

If I stay at home will I be safe?

No. Family and friends can easily bring in the virus. To reduce this threat, institute a handwashing rule for everyone as soon as they enter the house.

And make sure there is one hand towel for each person. If that’s not practicable, wash towels frequently.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk