Germs Are Lurking in Your Office

Feb. 15, 2006 — -- The flu season is still going strong, and the office can be the place where people are most exposed to illness. A recent study pinpointed some of the top hiding spots for nasty germs.

The study, sponsored by Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, predictably concluded that people should wash their hands and wipe down their work spaces. More importantly, "Germ Doctor" Charles Gerba, professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, located the Top 5 places where viruses live in the workplace: the desk, computer mouse, telephone, doorknob and light switch.

"Viruses can live for 72 hours on common surfaces like phones and desktops," Gerba said.

In the fall of 2004, Gerba collected samples from private offices, cubicles and conferences rooms in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and Tucson, Ariz. A total of 328 surfaces were tested and analyzed at the university labs.

Gerba said that "presenteeism" -- the opposite of absenteeism -- was one of the major reasons offices were such hotbeds for germs. Presenteeism is responsible for lost time and productivity because employees go to work despite not feeling well enough to be productive. According to a recent survey by ComPsych, a company that provides employee assistance programs, 77 percent of workers say they come to work sick. It costs companies as much as $1.5 billion a year.

Common areas, such as conference rooms, are not safe havens for germs because they are more likely to be cleaned than personal space, Gerba said.

"Also, people at meetings are usually sitting relatively still," he said. "They aren't getting up to use phones, computer mice and keyboards."