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Beware of communal iPads

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  October 8, 2013 01:09 PM

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This morning I stopped at a coffee shop that uses an iPad for a cash register. I ordered a muffin, a coffee, and paid with a credit card. The barrista swiped my card and pivoted the iPad to face me, so that I could sign with my finger on the screen. I was about to when I recalled new research out of Northeastern that finds public iPads are among the most germ-infested places you're likely to put your hands all day.

The research was conducted by Betsy Hirsch and her colleagues in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, and presented last week at IDWeek, an annual infectious disease conference, held this year in San Francisco. According to a recent post on a Northeastern research blog, Hirsch and her team analyzed bacteria on the screens of 30 iPads belonging to members of the Northeastern faculty. Half of those 30 iPads were used in hospitals by faculty members with clinical responsibilities, and the other half were used around campus the way anyone might use an iPad. Hirsch found that hospital exposure or not, it didn't matter: both groups of iPads were teeming with bacteria, including multiple drug-resistant strains.

The article noted that Apple is rumored to be experimenting with antibacterial screens for future iPads. In the meantime, beware of public touch screens. For my part, I signed my name at the coffee shop with my knuckle, and hoped for the best.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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