You protect your computer from viruses—but what about your
keyboard? For a recent study conducted by Kimberly-Clark, scientists swabbed
4,800 workplace surfaces across the country and discovered that roughly half have significant
levels of germs.
“We found parainfluenza virus, which is a little worse
than the common cold, on about one-third of the surfaces,” says Charles Gerba, Ph.D., a virologist at the University
of Arizona who consulted on the study.
How can those germs make you sick? It’s easier than you
might think. Let’s say, like any smart person, you wash your hands after
going to the bathroom. You touch the faucet handles to turn off the water.
That’s mistake number one: In the study, three out of four faucet handles had
enough germs to be classified as “dirty” by the research team.
Then you go back to your office and start typing away,
transferring the germs to your keyboard. Half an hour later, you wipe your nose
and go back to clicking the keys. Another mistake: “Viruses can
live for several hours on a dry surface like your keyboard, and the number-one
way germs enter your body is when your contaminated hands touch mucus membranes
like your nose, eyes, or mouth,” says Jack Brown, Ph.D., professor emeritus of
molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas.
Experts say the best thing to do is not touch your
face—ever. Problem is, the average person touches his face 16 times per hour.
So it’s a tough habit to break. Take these precautions to protect yourself against the six germiest
places in your office. For more instant health tips every day, follow Men's Health on Twitter!
Germy place #1: Faucet handles
Nearly 75 percent of the handles in the offices tested were
dirty, and 91 percent could be cleaned better, the study found. Your move: Turn
off the sink with a paper towel. If there isn’t one available, use your sleeve
or your wrist. After all, how likely are you to rub your
eye with your wrist?
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Germy place #2: Microwave door handles
Half of all microwave handles in the study were dirty. “But
unless you have an illness that’s compromised your immune system, touching the
microwave handle isn’t terribly risky,” Brown says, adding that you’re not likely
to be eating hot food with your hands. But if you are, scrub them for at least
30 seconds before diving in. That’s long enough to wash away 99 percent of
viruses and bacteria.
Germy place #3: Keyboards
Your fingers secrete oils and amino acids, which are like a
Chinese buffet to hungry bacteria. No wonder 27 percent of keyboards in the
study were dirty. Clean your keyboard every few weeks with a sanitizing wipe or
a bit of rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball, Brown says. Don’t use hand
sanitizer—most of them contain softeners, which will leave a sticky residue.
Germy place #4: Refrigerator door handles
In the study, 26 percent of the fridge handles researchers
swabbed were dirty. As with microwaves, you’ll be fine as long as you’re not
don’t grab the handle and then eat with your hands, says Brown. Avoid germ
exposure by opening the door with your sleeve, or washing your hands for 30
Germy place #5: Water fountain buttons
This one didn’t surprise Brown at all. “The biggest concern
for germs is any public place,” he says. “Meeting rooms, break rooms,
bathrooms. It just means you have to be cautious—you don’t have to be
paranoid.” His advice: Don’t wipe your mouth with your hands (even the back of
your hands) after using the water fountain. Newer water fountains can be
activated by pressing a rubber pad on the front with your arm or thigh—that’s
always better than using your fingers or hands.
Germy place #6: Vending machine buttons
One in five vending machines swabbed had filthy buttons, the
study found. This one is a concern, since you’ll usually be eating your snack
with your hands. Just scrub your digits before tearing into your Doritos.
Better yet, avoid the vending machine altogether—along with these 20 Habits
That Make You Fat.