Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fear the phone, not the doorknob, germ expert says�|�Reuters.com

Fear the phone, not the doorknob, germ expert says|Reuters.com

"Keyboards are a lunch counter for germs," Gerba said. "We turn them over in a lot of studies and we are amazed at what comes out of a keyboard."

In fact, the average desk harbors 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat, says Gerba, whose latest survey focuses on the germiest professions.

"Nobody cleans the desktop, usually, until they stick to it," he says.

Perhaps not surprisingly, teachers have the highest exposure to bacteria and viruses, Gerba has found. Accountants, bankers and doctors also tend to have microbe-laden offices, while lawyers came out surprisingly clean in the germ-count stakes.


And few people know just how dirty laundry is -- clean laundry.

"Most people don't realize that they actually should wash their hands after they make dinner and also after they do the laundry," Gerba said.

Americans have moved to short-cycle, cold-water washes to save energy and wear and tear on clothing, but this leaves viruses and bacteria largely intact.

"Water at 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) will sanitize laundry," Gerba said. But only 5 percent of Americans use hot water for laundry.

And viruses such as hepatitis A, rotavirus and bacteria such as Salmonella -- all of which cause stomach upsets and diarrhea -- can easily survive the average 28-minute drying cycle.

These are all carried fecally. "There is about a 10th of a gram of feces in the average pair of underwear," Gerba says. "You don't want to be doing your handkerchiefs with your underwear."

Gerba's studies are often funded by companies that make disinfectants, but Gerba says antimicrobial wipes and alcohol-based gel hand sanitizers do work.

"It has been shown that you can reduce a lot of absenteeism by using hand sanitizers," he says.

"We don't want to make people overly paranoid here," Gerba added. "You can reduce your risk of getting colds and flu by a few simple actions. You are always gambling with germs. You just want to keep the odds in your favor."

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