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Desktop germs can trigger cold and flu season

By JIM HAUG (jim.haug@news-jrnl.com); Business Writer: Daytona Beach News Journal, Nov. 25, 2002

DAYTONA BEACH -- Carolyn Boddie regularly sees purple mold growing in month-old coffee and shriveling black bananas sticking to desktops. 

 

Boddie is the contract services coordinator for locally based Act Corp., which specializes in training individuals with disabilities. She supervises janitors who clean office buildings in Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and Seminole counties.

 

Because of her experiences with office horrors, Boddie was not surprised by a recent study that says the average office desk has 400 times more germs than the average toilet seat.

 

Desks would probably be cleaner if they were inside restroom stalls rather than cubicle walls. Janitors "can clean toilets but we can't touch desks," Boddie said. "They're considered personal space."                  

 

As unkempt as workplaces are, Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, said it is easy to see how colds and flu can spread at this time of year. The cold and flu viruses can survive for three days on a surface. After an office worker sneezes into his hand, whatever he touches -- the phone, stapler, copy machine, doorknob -- can all become transfer points for the cold or flu virus, Gerba said.

The microbiologist said sick people would do better to kiss someone than shake their hand. "You're literally handing somebody the cold," he said.
 

For a healthier workplace, Gerba said workers should use disinfectant wipes to regularly clean their personal office space. However, Gerba's office space study was sponsored by Clorox Co., a maker of cleaning products.
 

Some workplaces post signs urging employees to clean their personal office space, Boddie said. But judging by the mess of her office, she said the rules seem to be flouted.
 

Bo Brewer, a human resource consultant and president of The People Business in Ormond Beach, said employers typically deal with messy workers during evaluation time. If their desk is messy, chances are they're disorganized with their work, too.
 

Local employer, First Data, makes supplies of disinfectant wipes available for its employees, said company spokeswoman Donna Pennington. The inbound call center employs more than 500 people. Because it is a 24/7 operation, shift workers must share personal office space. First Data workers also get their own personal headsets.
 

At many call centers, workers must share headsets, Brewer said. They get only personal "booties" or the foam padding for their earpiece.

 

"That's gross," he said.

 

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