Office Space Germs

Bacteria in offices come mostly from humans

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Most Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, right along with 500 different kinds of bacteria. The majority of the bacteria come from human bodies.

A recent study took swabs from office surfaces in three major cities. Telephones showed the highest bacterial counts of surfaces tests.

Most of the bacteria researchers found came from the people in the offices: human skin, nasal, oral or intestinal cavity dwelling bacteria. Next on the germ sourced list was soil.

"While at work - wash your hands - often!"

Scott T. Kelley, PhD, assistant professor of biology at San Diego State University and graduate student, Krissi M. Hewitt, teamed up with Charles P. Gerba and Sheri L. Maxwell from the Department of Soil and Water and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, to analyze office space bacteria.

The research team chose five common surfaces from 30 offices in three metropolitan areas to gather samples by swiping sterile cotton swabs along the surface. This yielded 450 culture samples from 90 different offices in Tucson, New York City and San Francisco.

They were looking for bacterial diversity and origins, and found over 500 types of bacteria from 20 different bacteria families.

Tucson bacteria differed from NYC and San Francisco, but the two larger cities were almost identical. Yet the highest bacterial counts were in NYC, followed closely by San Francisco, while Tucson trailed significantly behind.

Offices that housed predominantly male workers had higher bacterial counts than offices that housed mostly female workers.

Of the five surfaces tested, the highest bacterial counts were found on telephones, closely followed by chairs, then less on keyboards, slightly less on computer mice with the least amount found on desktops.

According to the authors, these findings on bacterial counts were consistent with a similar study done in Finland.

This study was published in PLoS One, May 2012. Funding for the research was provided by grants from San Diego State University, the Clorox Corporation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; no conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 24, 2012
Last Updated:
November 20, 2012