I was working in the main office and guidance suite today since, on the first day of a new semester, we invariably have countless schedule changes, grading problems from the end of the semester, reports to run, etc. I didn't bother bringing my laptop as our student information system is entirely web-based and I could use a shared computer quite handily. However, as the intern who normally uses the computer sat coughing next to me, students sat wiping their noses while they waited for schedule changes (you'd think that guidance counselors would have a stock of Kleenex handy), and I alternately typed and shoveled down one of our lunch ladies' world famous sticky buns, I realized that the keyboard on which I was typing was just one big petri dish.
Suddenly, the sticky bun didn't seem quite as appetizing (even since the lunch ladies switched to whole wheat dough to comply with new state health laws, the warm, homemade carbohydrate rolls are really outstanding). Once I sorted out the crises of the morning and liberally slathered on some hand sanitizer, I did a quick Google search to see if anyone else was thinking about the germs that must inevitably live on shared keyboards.
Remarkably, the search string "how to sterilize a keyboard" didn't turn up the slick about.com or how-to article on cleaning these little germ incubators. I walked next door and asked one of our biology teachers what she thought, since her students had been wandering around last week with inoculation loops finding bacteria in the school. As it turns out, they had managed to grow some fairly disturbing cultures from keyboards in the computer labs. We don't have the equipment to actually identify what was growing, but I think the activity inspired a few laptop sales.
A bit more Googling turned up the following on FoxNews.com:
While you type, your fingers could be grazing over potentially harmful bacteria. That news comes from Gary Noskin, MD, and colleagues at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
They were curious to see if bacteria found a friendly home on computer keyboards and if those bacteria could then hop onto someone's hand, given the chance.
All three of the germs they tested survived at least an hour on the keyboards. Two lasted for a day and grew during that time.
NPR featured a story on this issue about 6 months ago:
Studies show that computer keyboards have more bacteria than toilet seats. But it's hard to clean all those keys. So some people advocate an extreme solution: Throw your keyboard in your dishwasher.
The NPR piece goes on to say that this isn't generally recommended, but pointed to a growing market for keyboards that can be sterilized in a dishwasher, especially in medical settings.
Schools as well should be giving this some thought. Whether it's first graders with runny noses or college students with meningitis, computers are shared in schools more than most other settings, allowing for easy transmission of a variety of pathogens. A few keyboard sterilizing sprays are available but met with somewhat limited success in the Northwestern study noted above.
What are you using to clean your keyboards (and mice, for that matter)? Take the poll above and talk back below.