Get out the rubber gloves! Your mobile device could be harboring deadly germs, bacteria and viruses all out to get you. Not surprising really, considering how many times they are handled each day and where they are kept between uses.

Just think about it. What was in your pocket next to your iPhone, a handkerchief maybe? And how clean were your hands, or your colleagues’, when you were showing off your latest snaps on that iPad? How long since you cleaned out that grotty handbag where your phone shares space with filthy money? And what about those ‘throne surfers’ using their devices in the bathroom? I dread to think.

An article in the Wall Street Journal quotes Jeffrey Cain, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians saying, “Some things we think are personal are actually more public than we imagine.” Bacteria from a phone can cause flu, pinkeye or diarrhoea.” I bet that’s not all!

When WSJ tested eight randomly selected phones from its Chicago office for the article, “the phones showed no signs of E. coli or staphylococci bacteria. But all phones showed abnormally high numbers of coliforms, a bacteria indicating faecal contamination. Of the eight phones tested by HML Labs of Muncie, Ind., there were between about 2,700 and 4,200 units of coliform bacteria. In drinking water, the limit is less than 1 unit per 100 ml of water.”

So, what can you do to prevent the spread of deadly disease from your closest ‘friend?’ Apparently wiping it over with water is next to useless. Windex and Nice’N Clean cleaning wipes were marginal, but alcohol came up trumps, killing almost 100 per cent of the bacteria. This does not mean dipping your phone in a glass if Scotch is advisable – the side effects could be damning. Not just because you would ruin a good glass of Scotch, but the electronics may not take to kindly to it either. A spokeswoman for S.C. Johnson, that makes Windex, notes that its glass cleaner isn’t recommended for electronics – news that will concern those millions of Greek fathers and Windex addicts out there.

There are lots of commercial anti-bacterial cleaners available but some may cause damage to the surface of your expensive gizmo. Off-the-shelf alcohol wipes look to be the best bet but how often you will need to use them becomes the issue. Then comes the problem of where you carry them. Do we really expect our emergency chargers, backup or booster batteries, fancy cases, iPad covers, etc. to make space for wipes?

The industry is concerned enough to look for alternative materials that help keep the bacteria rate down. Forget your shiny plastics, aircraft grade diamond and laser cut aluminium and your Corning Gorilla glass; the next big thing may be sharkskin. Sharklet Technologies, a start-up in Colorado is using microscopic patterns that mimic sharkskin—known for its unique design that is more resistant to bacteria than other animal skins, and it could be on phones by second half of 2013.

Real geeks could opt for a high-tech UV disinfectant wand. Creators of a new product called ‘PhoneSoap’ say it uses UV-C light to clean the phone while charging it, and that the device will begin shipping to consumers in January 2013.

In the meantime, and if you are really paranoid about all those germs, think where you last used your device and when was the last time you cleaned it or washed your hands. Maybe those rubber gloves are the best solution. They are easy to pack, take up little space and come in a variety of colors and styles. You may even attract a whole lot of new friends you didn’t know you had.

First published at TM Forum as The Insider, 25 October, 2012