Upstate glass manufacturer Corning Inc. has developed the first antimicrobial glass for our proliferating smart devices, lap tops, and TVs. The glass is more resistant to bacteria but, doubts are emerging about the benefits of antibacterial products.
Americans use touch screens constantly. They’re on smart devices, on ATMs, at self-check-outs, and in airports. And, according to Corning’s David Velasquez, we’re transferring the germs from everything we touch right onto those glass surfaces.
“The transferability of this bacteria is prevalent, and especially on materials like glass and plastic which are very prone to transferability of bacteria. You know, your hands touch a lot of different things; doorknobs, car handles, and all kinds of public use items, and then they touch your device,” Velasquez says.
“We’re constantly in contact with them, we’re touching them, we’re bringing them up to our face, and we’ve got some data that shows actually that these devices are significantly more laden with bacteria than, say, a public toilet seat.”
The new antimicrobial Gorilla Glass cover has built-in properties designed to prevent the growth of bacteria, fungi, and microbes over the lifetime of a device.
Velasquez says bacteria usually isn’t a concern raised by consumers, but people are becoming more aware of the issue as more touch screens are available in public.
Paul Dunman, professor of immunology and microbiology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says antimicrobial screens aren’t the answer. He’s skeptical about the efficacy of antibacterial products in general.
“The bottom line is that people just need to wash their hands and disinfect current touch screens,” Dumnan says.
He says antimicrobial products are unlikely to have any positive impact on stopping the spread of germs, and could actually have the opposite effect.
Dunman says they can cause bacteria to build resistance to the specific antimicrobial substance used, and sometimes that translates into a cross-resistance to other antibiotic agents.
“What is happening on the consumer front is that companies are developing antimicrobial soaps, antimicrobial touch screens, antimicrobial cutting surfaces and that sort of thing. In reality, all that is doing is selecting for resistance, presumably to the few antibiotics that we do have.”
There’s very little data on the efficacy of many commercial antibacterial products.
Corning’s cover glass utilizes ionized silver to prevent the growth of bacteria, and the company says its glass is the first such product to be EPA approved.
In a statement, company officials said there’s bacteria present on mobile devices and they’ve received interest from consumers about reducing the level of bacteria on personal devices.
“We have data that shows the reduction of bacteria on our cover glass as well as data associated with the safety of the product.
The antimicrobial properties of silver have been reviewed in the scientific literature and there are many products with silver-containing surfaces. Antimicrobial Corning Gorilla Glass has the appropriate amount of silver for antimicrobial activity without altering the mechanical and optical properties of Gorilla Glass. The antimicrobial protection is limited to the glass itself.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a review of antibacterial products across a range of industries. In December last year, the FDA gave the makers of soaps and washes labeled as antibacterial, a year to demonstrate their products are safe and more effective than ordinary soap and water in preventing illness.