Feb. 13, 2024 –When it comes to the germiest objects around, here’s a gross one: Your keyboard may contain more bacteria than a toilet seat.
The concentrations and variety of bacteria on a keyboard surface are “disturbing,” said Josh Gordon, who specializes in the intersection of health and the digital world at Geonode, an online data management service.
“We’re talking E. coli, staphylococcus, streptococcus, to name a few,” he said.
The warmth of our fingers on the keyboard, along with everything from skin cells to food crumbs, creates a “fertile breeding ground” for harmful bacteria, Gordon explained.
“Keyboard hygiene is no longer a side note but a must-do,” he said. “It’s about consciously creating a safer and healthier digital environment for us all.”
But keyboards are hardly the origin of this issue. Harmful microorganisms – like bacteria, viruses, and fungi – have been with us since the dawn of humanity. And they can be deadly: One study estimated that nearly 8 million global deaths in 2019 were linked to common bacterial pathogens.
Dana Hawkinson, MD, medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Kansas Health System, called these microorganisms “staunch foes” that can live almost anywhere. They are on countless surfaces we touch constantly throughout the day – like doorknobs, ATMs, countertops, and public transportation.
“[What is not clear is] what is the true incidence of disease from those sources as compared to bacteria found on and within our bodies,” he said. “Just touching or coming into contact with the bacteria will not automatically cause disease for the vast majority of people; our skin provides an excellent barrier to invasive disease from these bacteria.”
People in certain professions where technological devices are used frequently can find themselves at an even higher risk of bacterial infections. Nurses, for example, use computer keyboards constantly to input patient data during their often 12-hour shifts. Many nurses do understand just how many microorganisms can land on their keyboards while plugging away at their desks, said Esther Karioki, RN, who runs a senior care home in Kansas.
“Most [nurses] will come and wipe the nurses station, wipe the desk before they sit their purse there,” she said. “But, of course, I move from that computer and somebody else comes and uses that computer. Everybody’s hand hygiene is not the same.”
The frequent use of chemical disinfectants on hardware, like computers, can often be discouraged due to the potential for device damage. Using keyboard covers – often made of plastic or silicone – is a great way for nurses to sanitize and disinfect their computer stations without constantly harming their devices, said Karioki.
Other safety tips from Gordon: Steer clear of eating at your computer. Food particles that fall between computer keys can bring about bacteria. Also, clean your keyboard often. Use a compressed air duster to blow away dust and debris. Then, use disinfectant wipes to polish off the job.
In addition to keeping your home and work spaces tidy, practicing good hand hygiene is one of the best ways to lower your risk of harmful bacterial illness, according to Hawkinson. This includes frequently washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
“Using hand hygiene after the restroom, before eating, after being in public places such as the gym or store, where you may have touched high-touch surfaces, and other various times throughout the day is the best path forward to keeping you well,” he said. “Also remember to avoid putting your hands in your eyes, nose, and mouth, as this can be a major portal into our bodies, especially for respiratory viruses.”