Monday, May 10, 2004

Germs stack up on desks, keyboards

By Dana Knight
The Indianapolis Star

A newly released study claims office workers are exposed to more germs from their phones and keyboards than would be found crawling on a toilet seat. A lot more.

According to the study, from researchers at the University of Arizona, phones have up to 25,127 germs per square inch, keyboards 3,295 per square inch and computer mice 1,676 per square inch.

The average toilet seat? Just 49 germs per square inch.

"Desks are really bacteria cafeterias," microbiologist Charles Gerba, who researched the study, told BBC News.

And just think about all the other communal items in the office - microwave door handles, coffeepots, water coolers, pens, staplers and copy machines.

One reason for the germ problem is the high number of companies that shy away from hiring cleaning services to swipe and disinfect desks.

They come in and sweep the carpet, scrub down the toilet and wash windows.

But keyboards, phones and computer mice are far and away the most germ-laden objects in the office, according to the study. Cleaning folks generally stay away from those items.

Employers have to decide how detailed they want their cleaning services to get, but the benefits of allowing and paying for individual desk cleanings is worth it in the end, as it may prevent more illnesses.

After all, 80 percent of flus and colds are caught by simply touching a surface.

"When someone is infected with a cold or flu bug, the surfaces they touch during the day become germ transfer points because some cold and flu viruses can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours," Gerba said.

"It's just like a day care (center)," said Clarence Bir, sales manager for a janitorial service in Indianapolis. "Once the bug starts in the office, it just circulates."

What you can do

So how can you keep your desk clean? Here are some tips:

• Keep your desk orderly. It makes it easier to disinfect, whether by you, the office janitor or the commercial cleaning company.

• Scrub your desk with a disinfecting wipe at least once a week. This can reduce germs and bacteria by as much as 99.9 percent.

• Buy a disinfecting keyboard spray and apply at least once a week with a cloth. Just don't spray anything directly on the keyboard.

• Phones should be cleaned at least once a month.

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