How Workplace Tech Can Make You Sick

In this week's "Cybershake," we take note of how workplace desktops are breeding grounds for viruses that can make workers literally sick. Plus, we hear why one popular author has decided to shun cyberspace.

Desktops: Where Workers and Viruses Meet

The kids are home sick with the flu. A fellow commuter was coughing the whole morning trip into the office. And your co-worker has been coughing so loudly all day, you can hear her from clear across the floor of cubicles. It may seem like the best way to avoid getting ill would be to hide at your own desk.

You'd be wrong though.

With the flu season in full swing, doctors and other health officials are warning once again about the hazards of germs at the workplace.

In 2002, University of Arizona researchers discovered that one of the most unsanitary areas in the office was at the desktop. With more workers spending more time at their desks, working and eating, the typical workstation is a virtual breeding ground for bacteria and germs.

According to the report, sponsored by a grant from the Clorox Company, the average office workstation can be a viral nightmare. Researchers found, for instance, that the surface of an average office telephone contains 25,000 germs per square inch -- more than 500 times that found on the typical office toilet seat. A typical desktop had more than 21,000 bugs per square inch.

Water fountain handles, microwave oven door handles and computer keyboards were also among the top five "germ-contaminated" surfaces in the office.

"People are leaving germs behind all the time," says microbiologist Dr. Robert Bogosian, founder and the medical director of The New England Institute for Infection and Immunity. And that is a recipe for catching your co-worker's illness.

"We know that people touch their nose, eyes and ears one to three times every five minutes," says Bogosian. "When they do that they introduce bacteria and viruses that may cause them to become sick."

The obvious remedy, say health officials, is to keep your workspace as tidy as possible.

"You want keep your computer keyboards clean. You want to keep your desk clean," says Bogosian. In fact, the study conducted by Arizona researchers found that a daily swipe of all work surfaces with a disinfecting wipe will remove nearly all of the potentially harmful germs.

Other health-care officials note that frequent and thorough hand washing -- 18 to 20 seconds with soap and hot water -- could help keep workers free from germs and illness.

Doctors also recommend that if you are sick, don't be brave and head for the office anyway. You'll only help spread your germs to others and contaminate your work area which could make you sick again later.

And one more piece of advice: Try not to stress out about those germs or taking a sick day and missing work. It only weakens your immune system, says Bogosian.

-- Karen Chase, ABC News

A Novelist Nixes the Net

Computer and the Internet have certainly become an integral part of many people's lives. But for Dean Koontz, one of America's most popular suspense writers, online technology is something he'd rather leave to others.

Koontz, who's penned such bestsellers as "Lightning," "Sole Survivor" and "Intensity," is scared of going online because of, as he puts it, his obsessive nature.

"If something interests me, I have to know everything about it," Koontz told ABC News. "I've watched friends who are writers who get on the Internet and they start spending time online and pretty soon, they're spending three, four hours a day ... and I said I know that's going to be me."

While some may consider Koontz's avoidance of the Net a bit drastic, his reason may have some merit. A survey released by the University of Maryland on Thursday finds that e-mail users now spend about 17 hours a year just deleting unwanted junk e-mails.

Koontz says he doesn't even e-mail his publisher in part because it's tough to keep an e-mail address secret. And by avoiding the addictive nature of the Net, he can focus more on cranking out works of suspense, such as "Life Expectancy," his latest novel.

"It's something that I don't need and so I'm doing perfectly fine without it," said Koontz. "As you age, you realize time is a thing of essence. It's the one thing you can't get anymore of. And so I'd better spend it the way I really want to spend it."

Maybe that's why he's one of only a dozen authors to have 10 novels rise to the top of "The New York Times" best-seller list.

-- Micahel Barr, ABC News

Cybershake is produced for ABC News Radio by Andrea J. Smith.