If you're eating lunch right now, you might want to save it for later. Actually, if you're at your computer while reading this, you shouldn't be eating! So say the expert microbiologists who worked with Which?, a consumer advocate company and magazine to determine how many microorganisms could be found at the average office computer keyboard.
The team investigated an 'average' London office, and took swabs from 33 workers' computer keyboards, from the office toilet seats, and from the bathroom door handles. The results were literally sickening. The researchers found several types of bugs, and they weren't the computer variety.
Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause diarrhea and various infections, including food poisoning, was found on several keyboards. One keyboard was so filled with bacteria―150 times the acceptable limit, or five times grodier than their toilet seat sample―that the team removed it for quarantine and cleaned it to prevent a serious outbreak of illness.
"That keyboard is increasing the risk of its user becoming ill," said microbiologist James Francis, one of the team who helped conduct the study. "I haven't seen a reading like that in a very long time." Some have taken a humorous view of the results, thinking up fun new office party games, like 'Guess whose cubicle contains Ebola spores!'
But the scientists didn't think it was that funny. "Most people don't give much thought to the grime that builds up on their PC," said Which? editor Sarah Kidner, to reporters. "But if you don't clean your computer you might as well eat your lunch off the toilet." Or in that one guy's case, you'd be better off eating lunch off the toilet seat. Gross.
"More and more people are eating at their desks and are transferring from hand to mouth all the time," said Francis to reporters. "That is making things worse."
The crumbs and little pieces of alfalfa sprouts falling off your veggie delight create the perfect conditions for microbes on and under your keys,. They combine with skin particles, dust, and trapped moisture to create a warm and happy environment for multiplying the icky bacteria.
Also at fault are folks who sneeze, pick their noses, and cough into their hands and then touch their keyboards without washing their hands or using a tissue. You know who that guy is. He's the same annoying coworker who eats the greasy pastrami with onions and then uses the common telephone (prime location for germs) without so much as a wipe from a napkin.
Microbiologist Dr. Peter Wilson told the press that a keyboard is usually 'a reflection of what is in your nose and in your gut'. But fellow scientist Dr. Mark Enright, from Imperial College in London, thinks that's just plain uncivilized. "You shouldn't have gut bacteria on a keyboard," tsked Dr. Enright.
In a related survey of computer users, Which? asked 4,000 people how often they cleaned their computer keyboards. About one in ten respondents said, "Huh?", and then admitted they never clean their keyboards. Ever. Two in ten said they have never cleaned their mouse. And about half said they only cleaned their keyboards once a month.
The best way to get rid of the pesky critters? It's simple. Just turn your keyboard over ... after turning it off, Sparky ... and dump the crumbs and skin cells out. Then wipe the keys with a damp cloth, or better yet, alcohol swabs.
That way, the next time you get a computer virus, you'll know to call the helpdesk department, not the HazMat team.
~ By Anastacia Mott Austin
~ By Anastacia Mott Austin