Once again, we’re in the thick of cold and flu season. And, once again, millions of parents are eying their sick days and wondering if they can really take any of them, even though they know they should stay out of the office when they’re sick.
Eighty percent of common infections can be spread through the air, water, food, and via contact with contaminated surfaces, Peter Sheldon, vice president of the commercial cleaning company Coverall, told me. And the places where people are most likely to pick up germs aren’t as obvious as you might think.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates washing your hands often in order to reduce your risk of getting sick, but did you know that washing your desk can make even more of a difference? According to Dr. Charles Gerba, a University of Arizona researcher whose work has earned him the title of “Dr. Germ,” the average desk harbors 400 times as many bacteria as the average toilet seat. And his research shows that women’s desks are far worse than men’s.
“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 Gerba. “It added up to big numbers for women, even though their offices typically looked cleaner.”
Gerba’s study (which was funded by the Clorox Company) found that computer keyboards and mice were the germiest, and desk drawers were germy as well — which makes sense, since that’s where we stash makeup, snacks, and sometimes even our purses, which are the perfect vehicle for germs.
“Women frequently place their purses on the floor just about everywhere they go, so we’ve come to think of handbags as walking ‘bag-teria,’” said Gerba. Since we’re so pressed for time, we’re more likely to eat lunch at our desks, too, and drips and crumbs can harbor bacteria.
Just wiping down your desk every morning can make a massive difference — even if it already looks spotless. “That’s the thing,” Sheldon said. “You can clean something and it may look clean, but you can have thousands of bacteria and viruses on the surface.”
Do you ever wipe down your desk at work?