Computer bugs

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“Computer bugs that can really make you ill” Camillo Fracassani and Claire Gardner

PRESS ‘S’ for salmonella and ‘E’ for E.coli. Your computer keyboard is home to millions of bugs and there is no use pressing ‘Escape’.

One of Scotland’s leading experts on bacteria is warning that a multitude of diseases can be caught from the dead skin and forgotten lunch fragments festering in most of the nation’s keyboards.

Curtis Gemmell, professor of bacteriology at Glasgow University, says computer users are at risk from a range of diseases unless they regularly clean their keyboards.

Experts have estimated that if every computer keyboard in Scotland were turned upside down and emptied out, it would create a mountain of bacteria-infested detritus weighing a staggering three tonnes.

The debris – made up mainly of dead skin, hair and dust, bound together with grease and grime from dirty hands – can make an ideal home for bacteria.

Bugs, including potentially dangerous bacteria such as salmonella, E.coli and staphylococcus, have been found inside keyboards. The organisms dine on scraps of food and splashes of sugary drink which have dropped between the keys.

It is estimated 60% of all illnesses are contracted in the workplace, and experts fear unhygenic keyboards may be contributing to the problem.

Gemmell said: “If you don’t clean your keyboard regularly it can become a place where bugs can breed. If you eat a sandwich at your desk, and some of that food falls down the side of the keyboard, then bacteria which can affect you could breed on the food.

“Most people have a bacteria called staphylococcus in small quantities on their skin. It can cause skin infections like impetigo and pustules.

“If a person transferred that bacteria from their hands or mouth onto a piece of food then it could provide a breeding ground for it. Then, all it would take is for someone to use the keyboard and touch the infected piece of food with a break in their skin and they could pick that bacteria up.”

On average, computer keyboards, used by millions of Scots at home and at work each day, contain about 1.5g of the bacteria-friendly debris.

It is estimated there are around two million computers in use in Scotland. Most are rarely, if ever, thoroughly cleaned and end up teaming with millions of bugs.

Last night, author Ian Rankin, an avid computer user, said he never cleaned his keyboard, which he admitted was black with grime.

“My keyboard is a disgrace. It’s black,” said Rankin, who uses his PC to write his novels. “I think if I tipped it up I’d find mice under it or something – it’s that dirty.”

(This article first appeared in Scotland On Sunday 09.06.02)

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