Smartwatches, fitness bands are a hotspot for harmful bacteria | Prevention tips | Health

Are you aware that our body is home to trillions of bacteria? Yes, you read that right. We do harbour both good and bad bacteria in our body where due to the immunity function in our body, the good bacteria far outweigh the bad. Our immune system protects us against harmful viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms that can cause a wide range of illnesses and diseases.

Nearly all smartwatches, fitness bands are a hotspot for harmful bacteria. Here’s how to prevent disease spread (Photo by Pexels)

In other words, if the immune system does not function properly, the harmful bacteria in our body will wreak havoc and cause diseases that can endanger not just your own lives but also those around you. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Shobha Subramanian Itolikar, Consultant-Internal Medicine at Fortis Hospital in Mulund, shared, “As per a recent study conducted in Florida, we all carry harmful bacteria on our mobile phones and smartwatches and spread them around unknowingly. This can seem anticlimactic as smartwatches are also playing a vital role in improving the fitness goals of individuals across the globe. Since they can track vital health signs like heartbeat, stress levels and activity levels like daily steps, these gadgets are quite popular, especially with fitness enthusiasts.”

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She explained, “Most of us wear wearable devices for extended hours from sunrise to sunset. As a result, these wearables are exposed to sweat, grime and whatnot, including toilet pathogens. Since we don’t clean the watches regularly, they quickly become a hotbed of pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella (the notorious Typhoid bacterium), Staphylococcus (the bacteria responsible for skin boils), Pseudomonas, and Escherichia Coli, to name a few. The study has further elucidated that the number of bacteria found on these devices also depended on the type of wristbands used. While rubber and plastic bands had the most bacteria on them, metal bands (especially gold and silver), on the other hand, were virtually free from bacteria.”

Dr Shobha Subramanian Itolikar elaborated, “These transmissible bacteria are hazardous as they can cause various invasive diseases, especially in individuals with low immunity, like children, older adults, diabetics, cancer patients, etc. While the wearer of the smartwatch can have a robust immune system, they might not contract the disease themselves. Still, there is a high risk of these individuals becoming ignorant carriers of diseases and transmitting these viruses/ bacteria to those with immunocompromised immunity systems.”

She suggested a few pointers on how to care for your smartwatch to avoid bacterial colonisation –

  • Opt for a watch that comes with a metallic wristband. It is best to avoid rubber and plastic bands.
  • In the case of rubber and plastic bands, replace them with new ones periodically, ideally every three months, in case you are a regular smartwatch wearer.
  • When going to the washroom, it is best to take off your smartwatch.
  • Ensure you take off your smartwatch during handwash to clean your hands thoroughly at the wrists as well.
  • Clean your smartwatch regularly with alcohol-based wipes and dry them well before wearing them.
  • Ensure you clean the watch screen daily, while the bands should be cleaned weekly.
  • While cleaning, mainly focus on the moving parts (e.g. bracelet links) and uneven areas.

It is imperative to raise awareness about the need to clean and disinfect wearable devices, especially those we use regularly. These small steps will go a long way in preventing the spread of diseases and pathogens that can otherwise become extremely viral and cause a lot of infections in the broader population.

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