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Average Desk Harbors 400 Times More Bacteria Than Average Toilet Seat

[ 03/31/2002 ]
Average Desk Harbors 400 Times More Bacteria Than Average Toilet Seat
OAKLAND, Calif., March 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Working late again? You're not alone, according to a new study by University of Arizona germ guru Dr. Charles Gerba. You have plenty of bacteria keeping you company.

The study, the first of its kind to measure normal bacterial levels inside offices across America, found paper isn't all that's piling up on desks. In fact, the average desk harbors 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat.

"For bacteria, a desk is really the laptop of luxury," said Gerba. "They can feast all day from breakfast to lunch and even dinner." Gerba and his researchers found that unless desks were wiped clean with a disinfectant during the day, bacteria levels climbed higher and higher, peaking after lunch.

Office Rankings

The study, funded by a grant from The Clorox Company, found that surfaces in personal work areas such as offices and cubes, had higher bacteria levels than surfaces in common areas. Telephones came in as the #1 home for office germs, followed by desks, water fountain handles, microwave door handles and computer keyboards. Surprisingly, toilet seats consistently had the lowest bacteria levels of the 12 surfaces tested in the study.

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

With more people spending more time at their desks -- the average workweek has increased to 47.1 hours according to the Families and Work Institute -- bacteria are finding plenty to snack on.

Study Highlights

For the study, Gerba and his team separated office workers into two groups. One group used disinfecting wipes to clean their desks, phones and computers; the other did not. Within two days, the wipes users were found to have a 99.9 percent reduction in bacteria levels.

The study team evaluated a variety of office locations, environments and surfaces. Study sites included private offices, cubicles and common work areas in offices located in New York, San Francisco, Tucson and Tampa. A total of 7,000 samples were collected nationwide and analyzed at the University of Arizona laboratories.

Other study highlights: -- Bacteria levels decreased drastically (99.9%) if surfaces were treated with disinfecting wipes once a day.

-- Among people who did not use wipes, bacteria levels increased an average of 19-31% on their telephone, computer mouse, keyboard and desktop surfaces throughout a typical workday.

-- The area where you rest your hand on your desk has -- on average -- 10 million bacteria.

Bacteria Busters

So how can workers control the spread of illness-causing bacteria? "One good way to kill bacteria and help stop the spread of germs is to regularly clean your personal workspace," offered Dr. Gerba. "During the study, we found that using disinfecting wipes can dramatically reduce that number and therefore help reduce your chances of illness."

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