BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Most of us spend a good portion of our lives at work. Our office is where we use our computers, cell phones, and lap tops, and often times where we snack or eat lunch. But just how clean is your work space?
"We could always be cleaner," says Garden Park Medical Center's Laboratory Director, Stephanie Fryson Johnson.
Johnson says germs are everywhere. That's because the typical office worker's hands come in contact with ten million bacteria a day, and that's the primary way germs are spread; through our hands.
Johnson worries, "Most people don't wash their hands correctly. If you wash your hands 15 seconds, singing Happy Birthday song, you normally get rid of most bacteria. But most people just basically rinse with water, come out, dry their hands; and they haven't done anything."
We decided to check out our own office space at WLOX to find out how clean, or dirty, we are. Garden Park's laboratory supplied the test swabs and we got to work. We patrolled the sales department and the newsroom, looking for the items most people tend to touch and use throughout the day; everything from keyboards and phones that stay in the office to iPads and cell phones, that often go home with us.
Going into the tests we knew we would probably find something less than desirable, because plenty of studies have confirmed that offices harbor more germs than most people care to think about. In fact, your average desk has 400 times more germs than a standard toilet seat. That's right, your desk is likely to be dirtier than the average toilet seat! Again, that's because hands, which carry the most germs, are rarely in contact with the toilet seat. And not washing your hand spreads illness and disease.
"Most of these diseases can be eliminated by washing your hands."
We tested our office gadgets throughout the day, and most of the staff had no idea ahead of time, so it was a typical day with typical germs. Once we had collected our samples they were delivered to Garden Park's Lab facilities, where researchers streaked the plates with our test swabs and then incubated them to allow the organisms to grow.
"We let it grow then we look to see what it is," Johnson said.
What they found was both comforting, and somewhat alarming. First the good news.
"Everything we found in your newsroom is pretty normal, which is good. It means people are washing their hands."
Normal, in this case, is bacteria like Bacillus and Micrococcus, which are rarely involved in causing infections.
The bad news? Researchers did find Staph Aureus: the only potentially dangerous bacteria detected at WLOX.
"If staph gets inside you it can cause problems, especially if you are immune compromised and it gets in your bloodstream."
But what's more alarming than what we found was where we found it.
"Wow! The two places that had it are the coffee pots," Johnson said, as she went through the test results. "No cell phones or keyboards; and that [coffee] is what you're putting in our body. That's what had the staph on it. The coffee pots."
The staph on our coffee pot was detected on the handles. What can we do to prevent bad bacteria? CLEAN. And clean properly. Not only our hands, but the surfaces we touch. Don't just wipe the surface with your cleaning solution. Read the directions and let it sit on the surface the appropriate amount of time before you wipe it away or touch it again.
Johnson explained, "When you're waiting, you're giving that formula time to kill bacteria."
By cleaning your own space and washing your hands properly, you're not only helping yourself, you're helping your co-workers and your loved ones.
"We all want to live healthy, long lives. And one way to do it is to make sure your environment is clean."
And by the way, no one at WLOX got sick from the bacteria on the coffee pot handles and we took the advice of our own report and cleaned the handles according to the recommendations.