After blogging, wash your hands

I never realized how dangerous blogging could be, but an ABC News report puts the dirty in the QWERTY, as Dan Childs writes. According to a small study by a British scientist, computer keyboards and mice could have as much as five times the level of harmful bacteria as a toilet. However, before reaching for the Lysol, one point gets missed until the end of the article:

It turns out that your computer keyboard could put a host of potentially harmful bacteria — including E. coli and staph — quite literally at your fingertips.

Sure, it may sound like a hypochondriac’s excuse to stay away from the office. But a growing body of research suggests that computer mice and keyboards are, in fact, prime real estate for germs.

It’s a phenomenon most recently illustrated by tests at a typical office environment in the United Kingdom. A consumer advocacy group commissioned the tests in which British microbiologist James Francis took a swab to 33 keyboards, a toilet seat and a toilet door handle at the publication’s London office in January.

Francis then tested the swabs to see what nasty germs he managed to pick up. He found that four of the keyboards tested were potential health hazards — and one had levels of germs five times higher than that found on the toilet seat.

Computer equipment received the blame for spreading a rotovirus outbreak in an elementary school in the DC area in 2007, so the concept isn’t exactly new. And let’s face it — it sounds like a good explanation for the crud we sometimes see on blogs. However, this news report only applies to shared computers, not single-person use keyboards and mice.

In a way, this shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Anytime someone uses an item handled by another person, bacterial exposure occurs, especially if the previous user is less than hygienic about washing their hands. Doorknobs, paper money, playground equipment — all of these become potential transfer agents. Computer keyboards and mice get similar contact in shared environments.

That doesn’t apply to home use. The only bacteria and viruses on my keyboard are the ones I put there, which makes for a very low risk.  The report fails to mention this until well after the jump, which makes it sound just a little hysterical.  Common sense dictates that using a shared keyboard will expose people to the germs of anyone else who had previously used it.

Best advice: practice safe computing. Wash hands after using shared resources of any kind, and that solves the problem just as well as when Dr. Lister first offered that advice in the 19th century.