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Ewwwww: Germs Are Working Overtime On Your Desk, Keyboard, PDA

A new study shows that our desks are loaded with germs. And women's offices have nearly three times more germs than their male colleagues'.

Sharon Gaudin

February 16, 2007

3 Min Read

Put down that Palm Pilot and step away from your desk. Now run, don't walk, to the nearest bottle of disinfectant.

A new study shows that our desks, including phones, keyboards, coffee cups, and computer mice, are loaded with germs, according to the University of Arizona's Dr. Charles Gerba, who's famous for germ studies. (Your kitchen sink has more germs than your toilet seat, by the way.) And ladies, brace yourselves -- our desks have way more germs than our male colleagues, nearly three times as many.

"As people spend more time at their desks, germs find plenty to snack on," said Gerba in a statement. "Desks are really bacteria cafeterias. They're breakfast buffets, lunch tables, and snack bars, as we spend more and more hours at the office."

So, what's the germiest item on or inside our desks?

For women, it's the makeup they stash in their desks. For men, it's their wallets. And when it comes to the germiest item that men and women have in common, it's the telephone.

After makeup, for women the phone is a close runner up when it comes to carrying bacteria. Purses come in a tight third, followed by hand lotion bottles, keyboards, desk drawers, and computer mice. For men, the wallet is the clear winner, with Palm Pilots (or other handheld devices) coming in a strong second, and phones, knick knacks, desk drawer handles, desktops, and coffee cups all making strong showings.

"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." Get those afternoon snacks out of your desk drawers. The drawers are like a resort for germs, and it's worse for women, who tend to stash more snacks. Scientists reported finding, on average, seven times more germs hiding in women's desks than in men's. Gerba reported that the drawers were the initial sites for mold, which then spread to the top of the desks and the items there.

According to a 2006 American Dietetic Association survey, 57% of workers snack at their desks at least once a day. More than 75% of workers only occasionally clean their desks before eating; 20% never do.

Gerba's study shows that women had the germiest offices in every location tested, except for Washington, D.C. For men, Los Angeles had the most germs and Oregon, as a whole, had the least amount of germs.

According to the study, which was funded by the Clorox Co., everyone might want to take a look at their neighbors' offices and see how dirty they are. Gerba noted that when yeast and mold are found in one office, it was found in multiple sites in the office, indicating that the bacteria is able to easily spread throughout the office environment.

Offices that are regularly disinfected have less than a quarter of the number of bacteria as those that are never disinfected. The study shows that 42% of women reported using a disinfectant in the office, versus 35% of the men.

Gerba said he recommends frequent hand washing and using disinfecting wipes daily on hard surfaces in your cubicle or office to kill germs.

For the test, samples were collected last fall from 113 private offices and cubicles in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oregon, and New York City. The tests were analyzed at the University of Arizona laboratories.

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