The truth about your computer keyboard

Today I was going over some paper work and stumbled upon my University final year project. I studied Biomedical Science and in my final year (September/October 2007), I chose to perform a little experiment to find out what microorganisms live on keyboards. I actually kept a log book of all my meetings with my supervisor, my experiments and findings. Looking at my log book I now realise how very important the experiment was, something I never really thought of then. To me I was just working on a compulsory project and needed to get a good grade plus I was excited about growing all manner of microorganisms and identifying them.

Seeing my project and logbook has led me to write on this topic. Let me start by sharing details of the microorganisms that lived on the keyboards I tested. To gain knowledge of what microorganisms can be found on keyboards, I took 10 swab samples from 10 random and actively used keyboards (locations of keyboard remains a secret 😉 ) Some of the microorganisms I identified were – Serratia rubidaea, Pseudomonas capacia, Vibrio metschnikovi, Flav. multivorum, Ps. paucimobilis just to mention a few. These microbes were identified using API 20E documentation from Biomeriux while some were identified via API 20E tests where there was no identification from the API 20E documentation.

Now I won’t bore you with scientific talk as I myself can’t even remember what these microbes are except I of course pour out my project here but just have it in mind that microorganisms can be harmful and cause ill health. Though the human body actually naturally has some microorganisms termed “normal flora” (such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Staphylococcus aureus in the respiratory tract and potential pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella or Clostridium in the digestive tract), they can gain access to compromised tissues and cause disease(s). There is also the possibility of one organism helping another to grow or survive. This is called cross-feeding between microorganisms. This can be a disadvantage – for example in cases where a penicillin resistant staphylococcus which is part of the normal flora shares its drug resistant properties with another pathogen making the pathogen resistant to penicillin which would have otherwise had healing effect in normal circumstances.

How do microbes get on keyboards?

    1. You eat at your workstation. A lot of us are fond of having our lunch, snacking or drinking tea/coffee at our workstation. Do you know some microorganisms are used in food production and can be found in undercooked food, unpasteurised milk and diary products? Some of your food particles or spills from your tea/coffee could get on your keyboard. Most foods contain sufficient nutrients to support growth of microorganisms as well as factors such as pH, and temperature. If your keyboard is not cleaned regularly then be rest assured that within a short period of time, microorganisms will begin to grow. Then you type away. You touch your face, lips, eyes and nose. You continue typing. You eat while working at your workstation without washing your hands. You then ingest microorganisms. Take a break and perform this experiment.

    A little experiment – Lift up your keyboard, turn it upside down and gently tap it on your table. What do you see?

    A little experiment - Lift up your keyboard, turn it upside down and gently tap it on your table. What do you see? Click To Tweet

    2. You sneeze or blow your nose. Let’s face it. Many times you sneeze you are not quick to catch and even if you do you don’t get up to wash you hands. When you don’t catch it, you spread germs onto the air and most of your sneeze gets on your keyboard and work area. You have indirectly introduced Staphylococcus into your environment.

    3. You go to the toilet and you either don’t bother washing your hands or you fail to wash and dry them properly. Salmonella and E. coli can be found in the stool of sick and even healthy people and animals. You rush into the bathroom and rush back to our keyboard. You have introduced all manner of microorganisms to your keyboard. If it is a shared keyboard then someone could pick up an infection.

What you can do to prevent infection from keyboards
Simples! Just wash your hands regularly, before and after eating, after using the toilet and before and after using a keyboard; avoid having lunch at your workstation; and clean that keyboard with a disinfectant wipe especially if it is a shared keyboard! You don’t need to wear gloves to use a keyboard! 🙂

What can you do to prevent infection from keyboards? Simples! Just wash your hands regularly, before and after eating, after using the toilet and before and after using a keyboard; avoid having lunch at your workstation; and clean that… Click To Tweet

Are there any other ways you think could result in microorganisms getting on your keyboard? Keyboards from different work environments will have different kinds of microorganisms and get infected in various ways so the causal factors is different for all but at the end it all boils down to hygiene. Those in hospitals will most likely have dangerously more germs than those in an office environment. Having basic knowledge of Health and Safety and Infection Control can help you prevent catching germs and spreading them.

P.S. Have greater fear for cash / ATM machines!

#BeHSEWise