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What is the 'Germiest' Profession?

Patrick Boshell
April 15, 2014

Germ ProfessionsDid you know that your desk is more contaminated than the average toilet seat? In fact, office toilet seats have about 49 germs per square inch compared to desktops at 21,000.  But how can that be when desktops get cleaned frequently?


For starters, germs are essentially getting a free ride every time you diligently wipe down your desk, says Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist from the University of Arizona.  "Cleaning alone may increase risk by spreading pathogens," adds Gerba .  Instead you need to kill germs on the spot using a disinfectant for surfaces or sanitizer on your hands - if there's no visible soiling. 


Enclosed environments, where people are working or interacting in close proximity with one another, are particularly at higher risk for the spread of germs.  We actually spend 80-90% of our time indoors and spend 50% less time cleaning, compared to 50 years ago.  We also spend more time in public places and travel more than ever before - sharing common items and surfaces with more & more people.


"As people spend more time at their desks, germs find plenty to snack on.  Desks are really bacteria cafeterias," adds Gerba.  80% of all common infections (colds, flu and diarrhea) can be spread through the environment including air, water, food & formites (objects or substances capable of carrying infectious organisms).  Gerba comments that, "Infectious diseases are actually the 3rd leading cause of death in the US today and 1st in the developing world."  Our aging population is also more susceptible to infectious diseases with 30-40% of the US population at greater risk of serious illness or death.


You may also want to think twice about reusing your coffee cup without running it through the dishwasher first.  "Colonies of germs are living in your favorite cup," Gerba says. 20% of office mugs carry fecal bacteria, and 90% are covered in other germs, according to Gerba's research.  The reason is because most people tend to clean their cups unknowingly using sponges or scrub brushes that are filled with bacteria.  Once transferred to your favorite coffee cup this bacteria can live up to 3 days.


       Download an Infection Prevention Manager's Guide


Dr. Gerba recently discussed some of the 'germiest' professions during an infection control webinar hosted by CleanLINK.  For this study, Gerba and his team collected samples from workplaces all over the US, testing more than 600 surfaces in the process.  They then studied surfaces of people in different professions to determine which were the 'germiest.' 

Hands down, according to Gerba's findings, the most bacteria per square inch was found on surfaces commonly used by teachers.  Teachers had 5 1/2 times more germs on their phones and 27 times more germs on their computer keys than other professions.  Kid's desktops are probably the dirtiest object in a classroom according to Gerba and most teachers get a lot more when kids hand in their tests and assignments.

Coming in at a close second was accountants, who tend to spend a great deal of time behind their desks.  This was followed closely by bankers - which may be no surprise to some as money can carry “pathogenic and sometimes multidrug-resistant bacteria, fungi and human parasites.”


Gerba also noted a gender difference based on his research.  Women's offices on average had the most germs on such items as telephones, pens and computer keyboards.  By contrast, men's desks tend to be more germier than women's.  Unmarried males experience one cold per year and unmarried women about 1.3.  Couples with school children experience 2.3 colds per year each and schools children experience an average of 3.5 colds per year. 

Since our hands are responsible for the spread of 80% of common infectious diseases, effective hand hygiene continues to be universally recognized as the smartest, most cost effective means of infection control in the workplace. To learn more about how to reduce the risk through infection control programs, including both hygiene and cleaning, please view the complete webinar.



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