Your desk is a germ magnet

Mar 17 2004 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The average desk plays host to 400 times more germs than a lavatory seat, researchers have found, with the growing trend towards munching a sandwich in the office largely to blame for massive rise in germs.

"Desks are really bacteria cafeterias," said Dr Charles Gerba, the University of Arizona microbiologist who conducted the research. "They are breakfast bars, lunch tables and everything else, as we spend more hours at the office."

Research has found that desktop eating is now almost the norm, with two-thirds of office workers eat lunch at their desks and six out of ten snacking at it throughout the day.

Top of the pile as far as bacteria is concerned is the telephone, 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.

"We don't think twice about eating at our desks, even though the average desk has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet," Dr Gerba said.

"Without cleaning, a small area on your desk or phone can sustain millions of bacteria that could potentially cause illness," he added.

Dr Gerba also warned that workers with a cold or flu virus can also pass it on through contact with office equipment such as photocopiers and microwaves.

"When someone is infected with a cold or flu bug, the surfaces they touch during the day become germ transfer points," he said.

"Because some cold and flu viruses can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours, an office can become an incubator."

Perhaps in future, offices should display signs reminding people to wash their hands before going to the bathroom.