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Help! My Computer is Trying to Kill Me

Practicing Smart Keyboard Hygiene Is A Must During Flu Season

As you feverishly work and focus on trying to meet your next work deadline, we interrupt to ask this alarming, but imperative question: Is your computer trying to kill you?

Warning: This is not a wild movie plot and this is not the story line of Stephen King’s latest fright fest. While no computer this side of Hal from “2001” or SkyNet from “The Terminator,” is consciously planning the health demise of its user, health expects remind us that the average computer keyboard is one of the germiest places on the planet. Real Business’s Simon Brooke reports the average computer keyboard can hoard up to 7,500 bacteria per swab. That’s a scary 5,000 more bacteria than the average headphones set bacteria jam to and 5,000 more germs than reside in the average American handbag.

That’s three times the Germ Godzilla lying in wait every time we make a keystroke or move our mouse. Real Business reports a hands-on study of some keyboards showed some contained so much bacteria – a whopping 150 times the acceptable limit – that they had to be put into quarantine. The same study found the keyboard to be five times as dirty as a toilet seat.

And we haven’t even touched on the germs sunbathing on our desks (just think of how many lunches do we scarf down here) and phones (which themselves can contain up to 25,000 microbes per square inch).

This presents a serious health hazard for business, especially during flu season, and double trouble for workers who share a computer.

The Sickly Truth

According to Peter Wilson, a consultant microbiologist at University College London Hospital, sharing a keyboard can pass on diseases between those who work in offices.

“If you look at what grows on computer keyboards, and hospitals are worse, believe it or not, it’s more or less a reflection of what’s in your nose and in your gut,” Wilson said in a BBC interview. “Should somebody have a cold in your office, or even have gastroenteritis, you’re very likely to pick it up from a keyboard.”

One of the most famous, or infamous, reports of keyboard germ outbreaks in the USA occurred in 2007 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a norovirus outbreak at a Washington, D.C. Elementary school that sickened over 100 students and faculty. The CDC confirmed the outbreak may have been spread through contaminated computer equipment.

For a firsthand look at how dirty your keyboard might be, hold it up upside down, shake it for five seconds, and see what falls out.

So why are our keyboards such germ havens? The average American typist makes contact with their keyboards tens of thousands of times each day. This naturally makes the keys and spaces in between convenient housing for bacteria and other microbes.

One scary test by Dr. Aaron Glatt, president and chief executive officer of New Island Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y., and spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society of America, found one computer keyboard out of 33 in swab tests showed levels of bacteria higher than those on a toilet surface – since most toilets are flushed on a regular basis.

Glatt added that it is little surprise that one computer keyboard out of the 33 in the swab tests showed levels of bacteria higher than on a toilet surface — since most toilets are flushed on a fairly regular basis.

The big trouble is when the bacteria and pathogens living on keyboards are more harmful than harmless. The major question computer users need to ask themselves: Do the dangerous bacteria and viruses which we come into contact with every day have a way to get past our natural barrier to such invasions – namely our skin?

This is where an unkept, uncleaned and germ-riddled keyboard can be come a clear threat to its user’s health.

“Keyboards are clearly contaminated,” says Dr. Pascal James Imperato, distinguished service professor, chairman of the department of preventive medicine and community health, and director of the master of public health program at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in New York City.

There is some much needed good news in the Keyboards vs. Germs War: Seal Shield, An American provider of infection control products, has created a keyboard that can be actually washed in the dishwasher. But the best proactive defense against falling victim to the germs literally living on the consonants and vowels of our keyboards is good desk and keyboard hygiene.

How To Repel The Keyboard Germ Invasion

The power to keep potentially sickening keyboard germs at bay is literally at our fingertips. For in a world covered in germs, the key is to smartly contain our exposure to the most dangerous of pathogens.

“The trick is to try and minimize and limit your exposure within a reasonable context,” Glatt said.

And our strongest weapon remains the old reliable defense that is as sure as the sun rises.

Handwashing is the single best, cheapest, most effective way to limit your exposure you have throughout your life with potentially dangerous bacteria,” Glatt said. “It’s amazing how this basic, basic advice is ignored by huge numbers of people every day.”

Step 2 is simple: Wipe down and clean your keyboard regularly, at least once per week and daily during flu season. One recent survey of over 4,000 keyboardists found roughly only half cleaned their computer keyboards at least once per month. Regular cleaning is especially essential for coworkers who share desk spaces.

Wiping down and practicing good hygiene is vital to prevent the spread of infection. Remember, germs like the common cold can last on computer keyboards and mice for up to 72 hours. More dangerous germs such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can last anywhere between six weeks to seven months.

Our computer keyboards can be a scary, germ-infested place where there is literally no escape from, but smart personal and keyboard hygiene can keep harmful germs and bacteria beneath our fingertips and out of our systems.

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