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11/19/2021

Clean your QWERTY, it's really dirty!

People under-rate the dangers of touching surfaces, and when they worry, they worry about the wrong ones.
a close up of a computer keyboard

Microbes are smart and have found ingenious ways to help themselves achieve their goals. They are very happy if they find a nice place to live in your body and then want to find similar accommodation for their family and friends. The viruses that cause respiratory problems, the common cold and flu have found a couple of ways to make this possible. One way, they make you sneeze so that you spray viruses into the air around you. You may, out of politeness, put your hand over your mouth, transferring the viruses to your hand. Later, when meeting an old friend you shake hands and bingo Mr. and Mrs. Virus have a new condo.

Microbes differ in their ability to survive outside the body: Some die in a few seconds, others can survive for long periods. Bacteria and viruses are everywhere, on clothing, on our skin, on counters, on desks and in fact on the many surfaces that you touch hundreds of times a day. Money is another item that is covered with bacteria, no wonder it needs laundering.

People under-rate the dangers of touching surfaces, and when they worry, they worry about the wrong ones. Research has been done recently looking at where bugs gather and which surfaces are the most disgusting. The location of the surface is obviously important, it should be no surprise that hospitals and doctor’s offices tested very badly, as did those of accountants and bankers. Lawyers’ offices were much less infested—even bacteria hate to visit a lawyer.

Money is another item that is covered with bacteria, no wonder it needs laundering.

The group of professionals most at risk were teachers—those coughing, sneezing, spluttering kids can really contaminate a place.

There are a few surprises as to which surfaces are dangerous. Doorknobs and elevator buttons that have long been thought to be potent sources of infection were found to be surprisingly clean. It should not surprise us that the old hand-held telephones were just teeming with microbial life—the move to mobile has been a blessing. In the home, the bathroom has some obvious hazards not necessarily just from the toilet. Sinks are full of bacteria, as are over-used towels. But guess what the researchers found to be the MOST disgusting surface where the highest concentration of nasties lived?

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Computer keyboards, particularly when they are shared, are the most germ-ridden places in the home or office. They’re a veritable community centre for bacteria. Here is a jolly little fact—there are more harmful bacteria and viruses on an average computer keyboard than on the average toilet seat.

My first thought is that you should take your keyboard and plunge it into a cauldron of boiling water for five or 10 minutes. That will definitely kill all the bugs. Unfortunately, my IT guys just told me that that is not good for electronics and is not a method they recommend. More gentle techniques should be used. Start by vacuuming the board, there are probably enough crumbs and pieces of food down there to make lunch—and that is what the bacteria have been doing. It is also good to vacuum the outlet from which the hot air is evacuated. There are some commercial sprays that you can use to clean the keys. Liquid disinfectants can be applied with a brush or a cloth and left to dry.

Remember the public health slogan “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases”? I offer a new one, “Clean your QWERTY, it's really dirty!”

Dr. Michael Moreton is a retired ob/gyn living in Lindsay, Ont.

Read: How to do everything better: Keep overhead costs down

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