Could Your Computer Keyboard Be Making You Sick?

by DavalosMcCormack on May 8, 2008

As soon as I saw the headline – “Your Keyboard: Dirtier Than a Toilet” – I thought ‘someone is not clear on the purpose of a computer keyboard.’ I mean, there are many things you can do with it but none that I am aware of are toilet-based. Still, intrigued, I read on.

The study found that your computer keyboard and mouse may be prime real estate for nasty germs and bacteria, everything from E. coli to staphylococcus.

The study was done by researchers in the U.K. Microbiologist James Francis took swab samples of 33 keyboards, a toilet seat and a toilet door handle. Now, first of all you have to wonder does he not have anything better to do? Then you wonder who is paying for this? But, putting those thoughts aside, Francis found that four of the keyboards had high levels of germs and bacteria, and one even had levels five times greater than those found on the toilet seat.

Clearly this has a strong “ewwww” factor, but does it mean your computer could kill you? Well, probably not but it could make you sick. In 2007 there was an outbreak of norovirus at an elementary school in Washington D.C. that left more than 100 people sick. The CDC eventually tracked the source down to contaminated computer equipment.
I did a similar story many years ago when I was working as a TV producer. Hey, it wasn’t my idea, it was one of those stories that are easy to promote and guaranteed to get viewers attention when you tease it during commercial breaks!

Anyway, we went out and took swabs from toilet door handles, the hand rail on a busy bus, an ATM keypad, and a couple of other places. The skankiest spot was the ATM pad. But even that wasn’t too bad. By comparison the toilet door handle was really quite clean.

So, what are we to make of all this. Well, maybe we should make computer keyboards out of the same material that we make toilet door handles!

Is there something we can do to protect ourselves and our computer? Well, first it’s important to note that the odds of getting sick from your own keyboard at work are small. If no one else is using it then the only germs on it came from you.

Second, if you do share a computer with other people it’s probably not a bad idea to have some handy wipes around to swab the keyboard before you use it, particularly if one of your computer compadres has a cold!

Third, wash your hands regularly, (especially after bathroom breaks) and try to avoid putting them near your face, particularly your nose, eyes and mouth. It will not only protect you, it might also help keep your mouse clean too.

We also need to accept the fact that there is no place on earth that is completely sterile. Everywhere you go, everything you touch, has been touched by someone else before you. That’s why we have active immune systems, to protect us against this low level but constant exposure to germs.

So next time you see an article saying that some common household object is as contaminated as a toilet seat, just turn the other cheek and ignore it.

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