Germs – It’s a Symbiotic Thing

26 04 2010

We have 100 trillion microbes in and on our bodies. Most of these little critters don’t affect us—no harm, no foul.  Some germs even help out with digestion and other functions, and some cause illness.

Despite the fact that we’re walking bags of bugs, we don’t want to think about it and we definitely don’t want to get more germs, at least not the disease-causing kind.

Photo courtesy "bmann"

To prevent disease and general yuckiness in the home and elsewhere, we are a sponge-and-cleaner wielding people. Some of us more than others. (That’s right, Mom, I’m talking about you.)

We can’t keep our homes and offices germ-free, nor should we.  We have a symbiotic relationship with the germs in our world that requires a delicate balance of healthy intimacy to maintain.

But, we don’t want pathogenic germs to get the upper hand.  They’re the germs capable of causing disease.

Being clean and tidy helps keep the nasty numbers down, but germs will always be with us. Our bodies fight pathogens off all day long as we go about our business.

And when we actually do get around to cleaning, we tend to focus on obvious trouble spots (bathrooms, kitchens) while ignoring places we don’t typically think of as germ hot zones. We’re talking about our offices, our phones, our keyboards.

Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at The University of Arizona at Tucson, has done a lot of research on viruses and bacteria in offices.

His work reveals startling facts. For instance, the germiest place in any type of office is something you use every day. “The phone is typically the dirtiest piece of equipment in an office because it goes straight to your mouth, and you never clean or disinfect it,” says Gerba.

Right behind phones are desks, which often pull double-duty as restaurant tables, and keyboards, which are tricky to clean and good at collecting things like dirt, hair, food particles, dust and bacteria. Many of us like to grab a bite while catching up on email, but studies may make you rethink that: keyboards are usually much germier than toilet seats.

Things get complicated if many people share a computer. This is bad news if you absent-mindedly bite your nails or touch your nose or eyes while working.

Women’s offices tend to have more germs in them, as women tend to bring in and take out more items like bags and purses, which can carry germs that get transferred to office equipment.

However, men’s wallets are often found to be germier than women’s purses.

So, how can you protect yourself at work without turning into a worrywart? In an interview with Entrepreneur, Gerba suggested you:

  • Wipe down your desk and surrounding items with a disinfecting wipe once a week.
  • Keep a hand sanitizer at your desk and use it throughout the day.
  • If you tend to eat at your desk on a regular basis, think again–this behavior is inviting bacteria to grow at your fingertips.
  • Wash coffee mugs and glasses on a regular basis.
  • If you’re sick, don’t go to work.

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