Forget the myth that women are cleaner. According to the world's leading expert on workplace germs, bacteria levels in women's offices are nearly three times higher than in men's offices. And that's even before you open their drawers…
Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona has already upset the squeamish with his revelation that the average office desk plays host to 400 times more germs than a lavatory seat.
Now he has revealed a further shocking truth about our toxic offices. While germs appear to be fairly gender neutral when it came to desktops and phones, when it comes to computer mice and keyboards, those belonging to women have three to four times more germs than those used by men.
"What we found is that women seemed to have more 'stuff' in their offices, from makeup bags to pictures of family and purses on their desks," said Dr. Gerba.
"It added up to big numbers for women, even though their offices typically looked cleaner."
But the difference was even more startling when it came to examining the dark recesses of the desk drawer. Because there, lurking among the long-forgotten snacks, mouldy bananas and stale make-up, the scientists found a bacterial paradise, with seven times more germs hiding out in women's desks than in men's.
But it wasn't entirely a clean sweep for men. According to Dr. Gerba, men's wallets were the single most germy item in any office - four times germier than women's purses - the item even the researchers were betting would come in at the top.
"Women frequently place their purses on the floor just about everywhere they go, so we've come to think of handbags as walking 'bag-teria,'" he said.
"But seems men may now have a good excuse to think twice before reaching for their wallets."
Dr. Gerba's Germs in the Workplace research has already revealed that the office telephone is top of the pile as far as bacteria is concerned is the telephone, being home to around about 25,127 microbes live per square inch, while the desk surface itself harbours some 20,961 microbes per square inch.
In contrast, the average lavatory seat is a paragon of sterility, containing just 49 germs per square inch.
Keyboards have somewhere in the region of 3,295 germs per square inch, followed by the mouse, fax machine and photo copier, which respectively have 1,676; 301; and 69 germs swarming across every square inch.
"As people spend more time at their desks, germs find plenty to snack on," said Dr. Gerba. "Desks are really bacteria cafeterias. They're breakfast buffets, lunch tables and snack bars, as we spend more and more hours at the office."
According to 2006 American Dietician Association survey, while nearly six out of 10 workers snack at their desks at least once a day, more than three-quarters admit to only occasionally cleaning their desks before eating and one in five never do.
And the serious message is that this nonchalance about office hygiene can have serious consequences. In one study looking at the presence of viruses, Dr. Gerba and his researchers found that an infected person can leave a trail of viruses on every surface they touch - and some viruses can survive on surfaces for up to three days.
So perhaps men got it wrong this week on Valentine's Day. Instead of buying her chocolates, they ought to have brought her disinfectant instead.