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The Invisible Invasion on Your Desk

Is Your Workspace Really Clean?

The Invisible Invasion on Your Desk

By Christopher Lisotta, for Yahoo! HotJobs

Office workers are becoming hip to the fact that their workspaces are breeding grounds for germs and bacteria, but depending on what city you live in and what kind of office you work in, the level of contamination can vary widely.

In the past five years Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona, has done four Clorox-sponsored studies over five years that looked at office environments, and found that the germiest desks were in the Big Apple.

Regional Differences

"There were a lot more bacteria in offices in New York," Gerba said, suggesting that bigger cities with larger, multistory office buildings and colder climates kept people at their desks for lunch and breaks, which meant more chances for people to spread germs.

In comparison cities with lower densities, warmer climates and more opportunity for workers to leave their offices during the day had fewer microbes, Gerba said.

"Cities like Tucson, San Francisco and Los Angeles had much cleaner offices," he said.

Handle With Care

Shared workspaces, like media newsrooms with staffs on different shifts, are also likely to be much more bacteria-laden than other offices.

To cut back on bacteria, office workers should focus on three areas to keep clean: their desktops, phones and computers. Besides washing their hands frequently, workers should invest in disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers, since custodial staff rarely clean desktops or office equipment.

Gender Inequality

"Most people don't usually clean their desk until they start sticking to it," he explained, adding that men and women tend to contaminate different things.

Gerba found that men, for example, are more likely to have personal digital assistants, like BlackBerrys, that are highly contaminated.

When it comes to invisible microbes on the desktop, many women's desks have a higher incidence of contamination. The research showed that women often have more perishable food at their desks, while men tend to go with candy bars or other packaged foods for their in-cubicle snack. Apples, oranges and bananas can leave mold behind. Another item women had at their desks that can be a breeding ground for bacteria are makeup kits, according to Gerba's studies.

Cleaning Your Equipment

Shaking the crumbs out of a keyboard or employing a canister of compressed air to get rid of dust may help extend the life of office equipment, but to really clean use products that kill germs. Taking a dry paper towel to your desk is not only ineffective, but it may also make things worse, Gerba said.

"It moves germs all around instead of disinfecting," he said.

Most office equipment should not be sprayed with cleaners, but wetting a tissue or paper towel with a gentle disinfectant can allow for adequate cleanup.

Take the Stairs?

While many office clean freaks will go to great lengths to avoid touching the knob on the bathroom door, Gerba's studies found that knobs and light switches were "pretty clean."

But one of the dirtiest spots in office buildings was a fairly innocuous site -- the elevator's first floor button.

"I always knuckle that one," Gerba said.

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