With cold and flu season reaching its peak and flu vaccine in short supply, many Americans may want to hide at their desks to avoid those hacking and
sneezing co-workers. But health experts say that could be the very place that makes them sick.
A study by the University of Arizona in 2002 found the typical worker's desk has hundreds of times more bacteria per square inch than an office
toilet seat. If that's not disturbing enough, desks, phones and other private surfaces are also prime habitats for the viruses that cause colds and
Bacteria, single-celled organisms, can cause strep throat, pneumonia and other conditions. They can be treated with antibiotics. However, viruses,
which are smaller than bacteria, cause colds and flu and cannot be treated with antibiotics.
Office toilet seats had 49 germs per square inch, he found. But desktops had almost 21,000 germs per square inch. Phones were worse -- more than
25,000 germs per square inch.
Desks, phones, computer keyboards and mice are key germ transfer points because people touch them so often, Gerba said, adding that coughing and
sneezing can leave behind "a minefield of viruses" that can live on a surface for up to three days. But health experts say that simple office
hygiene can reduce infection risks dramatically.
"We know that 80 percent of the infections you get are transmitted through the environment," Gerba said.
Roslyn Stone, chairwoman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Workplace Flu Prevention Group, had another low-tech recommendation --
washing your hands.
"Soap and hot water for 18 to 20 seconds as frequently as you can remember to do it is going to be your single most effective prevention tip this
season," she said.
Stone also urged people not to go to work if they're sick to avoid spreading the disease to their co-workers.