As I have written before, there is a veritable cottage industry of papers identifying bacterial contamination of nearly every inanimate object you can think of.

One of the latest involves contamination of the surfaces of electronic devices and in particular, iPads.

Without giving references, a New York Times article entitled “Cleaning the mobile germ warehouse” says, “Repeated studies show what accumulates [on device surfaces] is germy nastiness worse than what is on the bottom of your shoe.” A least it’s not a toilet seat comparison.

The Times cites a recent letter to the editor of the American Journal of Infection Control, which states that the screens of 20 hospital-provided iPads were cultured looking for Staph aureus, Clostridium difficile, and gram-negative organisms. Three grew Staph, but neither of the other organisms was found.

They then inoculated screens with MRSA and C. diff. to test various disinfection techniques. The use of wipes containing bleach effectively decontaminated all the screens. [I wonder if Apple approves of using bleach on iPad screens.]

The Times piece launched into a long discussion of how screens should be cleaned without any mention of the problem of extrapolating what can be found on a hospital’s iPad screens to what might be found on your iPad screen or whether inoculating screens with bacteria is comparable to what might be found with normal home or non-medical office use.

The senior author of the iPad screen study is quoted as saying, “That devices can be a source of disease transmission is not a subject of debate anymore.” His study mentions no references to disease transmission by iPads or smart phones.

Excuse me, but I don’t see what this research has to do with transmission of disease. The study did not look at disease transmission but merely colonization of surfaces. It showed that hospital-acquired organisms can occasionally be found on a small number of iPad screens in one North Dakota hospital.

I would say the topic is still quite debatable.

iPads used in hospitals should be cleaned regularly. I have nothing against cleaning the screen of your iPad or any other device you own. If nothing else, cleaning makes it easier to see, and the device looks nicer.

What I have a problem with is the unquestioning endorsement of research like this by the media.

But after all, headlines like “mobile germ warehouse” get clicks, and that’s what it’s all about.

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and critical care and has re-certified in both several times. He blogs at and tweets as @SkepticScalpel. His blog averages over 1400 page views per day, and he has over 9600 followers on Twitter.