It's In The News

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CBS News 1, 2 | 20/20 | Intelligence Journal | Calgary Herald

CBS News 1

DAN RATHER anchor:

It's more than today's food safety alert from the government we reported earlier that has Americans concerned about dangers from unseen germs. With recent reports of flesh-eating bacteria and drug resistant superbugs, it's no wonder that in a CBS News Poll out tonight, two-thirds of the people say they're more conscious of germs now than just a few years ago, and almost 40 percent say they avoid touching public surfaces to avoid germs. So how real is the danger? Tonight, meet the enemy in Part One of our scientifically baced Eye On America series, Germ Warfare, reported by CBS News correspondent John Roberts.

Unidentified Woman:.. touch has germs on it.

JOHN ROBERTS reporting:
Call it neurosis, call it phobia..

Woman: I'm sure that there are hundreds of germs being passed from this...

ROBERTS: ... call it good sense: America has a fascination, almost an obsession, with what we touch..

Woman: Door knobs, you know, turnstiles.

ROBERTS: ... and what might be on it.

Dr. JAMES HUGHES (Centers For Disease Control): There are bacteria, there are viruses, there are fungi, and there are parasites-many of which can affect human beings.

ROBERTS: Dr. James Hughes of the Centers For Disease Control says after several large infectious disease outbreaks in the past four or five years, people are right to be concerned.

Dr. HUGHES: For many years, I think people were fairly complacent about infectious diseases in this Country. Well the reality of the situation is that we haven't taken care ofa lot of the problems.

ROBERTS: So just what is out there facing people every day?

Dr. CARL BATT (Microbiologist): This will then pick up the bacteria that are present on this pole. So we'll just sort of wipe it down the way you would normally wipe down a surface with a sponge.

ROBERTS: We asked Cornell University microbiologist Carl Batt to test various public surfaces In New York City. Batt's colleagues did the same in Lincoln, Nebraska, and San Francisco. Would people be surprised if they knew what was on surfaces that they touch day-to-day!

Dr. BATT: Well I--I--I--I can only hazard a guess. I mean I assume that they would. because i don't think many people are-are very well aware of what types of bacteria can be on surfaces like this.

ROBERTS: We tested 46 different surfaces, from payphones to handrails to door handles to ATM keypads.

Dr. BATT: This particular bacteria should not be sitting on an ATM machine in the middle of Manhattan.

ROBERTS: What we found on that ATM was a toxic form of E. coli bacteria, similar to one that caused a deadly outbreak of food poisoning in the Northwest four years ago. It can cause stomach ailments and in severe cases, kidney failure leading death.

Dr. BATT: E. coli is a normal inhabitant of--of feces of a number of different animals, including humans. And one can only imagine how that particular bacteria might have gone on an ATM machine.

ROBERTS: And it wasn't just the ATM that was carrying disease. Fifty percent of the surfaces we tested had at least one form of toxic bacteria on them.

Dr. BATT: This particular bacteria, Staph Aureus, was found on a number of different pay phones.

ROBERTS: The Staph Aureus bacteria found on this pay phone in New York can cause anything from boils to respitory infection.

Is it possible to get sick from a pay phone?

Dr. BATT: It's possible, very possible to get sick from a payphone.

ROBERTS: If Americans have become germphobic, they could be forgiven. The types of diseases that are passed by casual contact kill tens of thousands of people in this country every year and sicken millions. And it's not just crowded urban areas like New York that pose a risk Our tests of Lincoln Nebraska, showed that the heartland was no better off than New York. Staph Aureus on a convenience store door and an ATM keypad, and a diarrhea-causing bacteria, Bacilius cereus, on a computer lab keyboard, drinking fountain handle, pay phone and ATM, In San Francisco the situation was even worse.

Dr. BATT: On a single payphone in-in San Francisco, we found three different bacteria which can cause disease symptoms that include skin infections, gastroenteritis and vomiting.

ROBERTS: With almost every touch, every breath. we come into contact with germs, So how do you protect yourself against disease? We'll check out some of the best methods and new products tomorrow. In New York, I'm John Roberts for Eye On America


CBS News 2

DAN RATHER, anchor:

In tonight's Eye on America, more of our scientific investigation into dangerous germs lurking all around us, especially on things we touch. Last night, our investigative report found dangerous germs, even potentially deadly ones, in everyday places such as pay phones and computer keypads. So are there any weapons to fight this germ warfare and do they really work? Our point man is CBS News correspondent John Roberts.

Dr. CARL BATT (Microbiologist): People don't use this...

JOHN ROBERTS reporting:
Cornell University microbiologist Carl Batt found our world to be a germy place.

Dr. BATT: This is Bacillus cereus from a pay phone in San Francisco. This is Staph aureus from an ATM machine in Lincoln, Nebraska. And most surprisingly of all, this is E. coli from an ATM machine in New York City.

ROBERTS: More than half of the surfaces we had Carl and his colleagues test were contaminated by many different types of bacteria, pathogens that can cause anything from respiratory ailments to diarrhea, skin infections, to kidney disease.

Dr. BATT: This particular bacteria on an ATM machine would represent a public health threat, especially if one was to go home, prepare some food, allow that food to sit around and allow those numbers of bacteria to multiply and then ingest that food.

ROBERTS: In our new CBS News poll, we found 65 percent of Americans are more conscious of germs now than they were just a few years ago. In response to those growing concerns, companies are cashing in with hand creams and soaps that are supposed to kill bacteria . And they're becoming popular. Our poll also found 52 percent of Americans go out of their way to buy products that contain antibacterial ingredients. We tested some of those products at the Cornell labs. Here's what our investigation found.

Dr. BATT: What this clearly shows is that these antibacterial soaps do indeed kill bacteria. They don't, in fact, kill all bacteria.

ROBERTS: One of the bacteria they didn't kill: Listeria, a common food-home pathogen that can cause meningitis. It actually grew in the soaps.

Dr. BATT: So for this bacteria and a number of other bacteria, there's virtually no effect of these soaps on them.

ROBERTS: Antibacterials are now making there way into everything from mattress covers to children's toys. But has it gone out of hand? The Hasbro Toy Company was recently fined by the Environmental Protection Agency and agreed to change labeling that suggested its antibacterial toys would protect children from health risks. The EPA says there was no proof to back that up; a growing problem, according to administrator Carol Browner. Have you seen an increase in the number of misleading claims in the last 12 months?

Ms. CAROL BROWNER (Environmental Protection Agency): Yes, we have seen an increase in the number of consumer products carrying a claim which we believe is misleading or overstated.

ROBERTS; But whether using an antibacterial or not, no one understates the importance of frequent hand-washing to prevent infections and food-borne illness.


20/20 - Spreading Germs and Illness In The Workplace

Jan. 19, 1998

BARBARA WALTERS A new flu strain is making its way across the country. It's called Type A Sydney, after the Australian city that first saw the signs of it last year. Thousands of people have already been struck by it. But that doesn't stop them from going to work and spewing their germs in the general direction of their fellow workers. Many people feel that they have to go to work, no matter what. Should they? Do you? And even if you get the job done, are you doing anyone a favor? Dr Timothy Johnson tells us what we should do.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON, ABC NEWS MEDICAL EDITOR (VO) A fetus develops in a protected environment. But a child bursts forth into a less forgiving world, a virtual petri dish where germs are everywhere. Bacteria are hidden on the surfaces he will touch. Viruses float invisible through the air he will breathe. He will get colds, dozens and dozens of them in his lifetime, and the flu again and again. (on camera) The sheer numbers of people who get sick are startling. Each year nine out of 10 people catch a cold. As many as 50 percent get the flu, and they usually catch it from each other--as children in day care or at school, as adults from their own children or in the workplace. But the big difference is this-when children get sick, they're expected to stay home. As adults, we're expected to go to work. (VO) Listen to the people who work on the trading floor of this investment bank when asked when they last took a sick day off. 1ST INVESTMENT BANK EMPLOYEE Not in the last two years.

2ND INVESTMENT BANK EMPLOYEE That's a good question. Last time I took a sick day?

3RD INVESTMENT BANK EMPLOYEE It's been about four years. I'm sorry.

4TH INVESTMENT BANK EMPLOYEE I haven't had a sick day here.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) Although 20 million work days are lost each year to the common cold alone, the number of sick days taken by the average worker has declined.

5TH INVESTMENT BANK EMPLOYEE I think there's the feeling that if you take a day off, you're going to miss something, and you don't want to miss something.

6TH INVESTMENT BANK EMPLOYEE r think it looks weak to take a day off.

7TH INVESTMENT BANK EMPLOYEE You can't because somebody else would be in line for this seat.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) These people may seem, at first blush, admirable in their commitment to their jobs. But how about their concern for their co - workers? Dr Philip Tierno is a microbiologist at New York University Medical Center.

DR PHILIP TIERNO, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY MICROBIOLOGIST Consider this--if one individual who has a bad cold comes--or influenza, for that matter--comes to work, he or she can contaminate maybe 10, 15 people.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) The common cold and influenza--the flu--can be easily transmitted to a healthy person. It can be caught by hand-to-hand contact or by touching objects that have been contaminated by an infected person.

DR PHILIP TIERNO A typical scenario is someone is ill. They blow their nose. Now they're contaminated. They open the door to their office, and they've just contaminated the doorknob. Someone comes in and opens that door. They have now contaminated their hand. And if they touch their eye or if they touch their nostril or their lips, they may have inoculated themselves with rhinovirus.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) Germs like the rhinovirus, responsible for most colds, may linger on a doorknob or a phone or a computer keyboard, turning these otherwise benign objects into danger zones. (on camera) How long can viruses that cause the common cold survive on these open surfaces?

DR PHILIP TIERNO From a few hours to less than one day.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON But that's a long time.

DR PHILIP TIERNO That's a very long time.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON I mean, if somebody contaminates a doorknob, and it can live for up to 24 hours, that means a lot of people could touch that doorknob and contaminate themselves?


DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) The flu virus is also easily passed on through the air. And studies now show that cold viruses can also travel in the air, when an infected person sneezes or coughs, spewing out contaminated droplets. (on camera) How close do you have to be to pick these up, if somebody's releasing them?

DR PHILIP TTERNO Relatively close, because heavy droplets settle quickly.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON So relatively means, you know, roughly, are we talking about ...



DR PHILIP TIERNO Forgive our intrusion. I'm just going to place a plate--may I? -- on your desk. We're testing the air quality.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) A large New York company allowed Dr Tierno to test for bacteria in the air and on surface areas around its offices.

DR PHILIP TIERNO This looks like it could use a wash in here.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) The samples, while not specific tests for cold and flu viruses, show how easily germs like them can spread.

DR PHILIP TIERNO Organisms are ubiquitous, meaning everywhere but unseen.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) Dr Tierno found human contamination from the mouth and skin and surprisingly also from feces, presumably because people were not washing their hands. He found the germs on phones and desk tops and on the buttons on office machines. (ph)

DR PHILIP TIERNO We got many types of bacteria and fungi. These are strepviridans (ph), and, in fact, entcroccocci (ph)

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (on camera) So based on this kind of sampling, you would be fairly confident in saying that there were also cold and flu viruses in that environment certainly?

DR PHILIP TIERNO Well, I certainly saw people blowing their nose and coughing. So I'm pretty certain, based on that evidence, and the fact that you do have respiratory, skin and fecal contamination, that you--you have the presence of the organism there. That would be expected wherever humans are.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) There was nothing unusual about what Dr Tierno found around the offices. It was typical of how germs like those that can cause colds and flu are spread in any workplace.

DR PHILIP TIERNO We know that if you're sick, stay home.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) And many employers say they would like infectious employees to stay home.

PAT WALSH, MERRILL LYNCH I would say unequivocally that there is no one who is so indispensable that they shouldn't stay home if they're feeling that sick. Because even if they have important functions and important responsibilities, those things, in this day and age, can be done from home through conference calls and through faxes and through those kinds of things. And the risk of infecting the rest of the workplace is so high that I think that, regardless of the level of the person's responsibilities, they should be comfortable and staying home.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) But because not all employees are convinced that their employers mean it, or because they've used up their sick days taking care of their sick children, or because they believe they are indispensable, some people will continue coming to work even when infectious.

ANN MARIE SABATH, ETIQUETTE EXPERT I would say when you're not horizontal, you should go to work.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) Ann Marie Sabath, a guru of business etiquette, doesn't think that coming to work is so bad. In fact, she takes a very hard line.

ANN MARIE SABATH When sick, a person should ask himself or herself, "If this were my business, would I choose to go to work?" If the answer is yes, then that person should high--tail it in to work.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) Sabath says just pay attention to some common sense rules of etiquette and health, like

ANN MARIE SABATH Sneezing etiquette dictates that you use your left hand to cover your mouth so that your right hand will have-will be germ free.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) Dr Tierno says if you're sick and insist on coming in to work, try and stay out of public areas. Always cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue, not a handkerchief, and throw it away immediately. And most importantly, wash your hands carefully and frequently. (on camera) So plain old-fashioned hand washing is critical?

DR PHILIP TIERNO Plain old--fashioned hand washing. Very, very critical. Unfortunately, not everybody does it correctly. They should do it for 30 seconds, scrubbing up, getting the knuckles, under the nails and

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON In between the fingers?

DR PHILIP TIERNO In between the fingers, rinsing and then repeating that.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) And then, Dr Tierno suggests, as you leave the restroom, you should actually use a paper towel to open the door. (on camera) Now, you know, in the past we've seen occasionally people do that, and we think that's some kind of nut--compulsive people, but really they're being very smart.

DR PHILIP TIERNO Being very smart. Right, absolutely.

DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON (VO) The fact is while most people say their sick colleagues should stay home, not many follow their own advice. Not even Pat Walsh from Merrill Lynch, who says sick employees should not come to work. He admits he's been sick recently. But when did he last take a sick day?

PAT WALSH Oh, I don't know. It's probably been-it's probably been a couple years ago. Probably been a couple years ago.

SUBWAY TRAIN ANNOUNCER Next train for west side, track 21.

HUGH DOWNS I don't know. If you're thoughtful at all, I think you stay away from the workplace if you're infectious.

BARBARA WALTERS Well, you know, we see these pieces in advance. And I was just about to eat a tuna fish sandwich when I watched the piece. I went into the ladies room, washed my hands for a full 30 seconds, took the paper towel, used it to open the door to go out. Everybody thought I was nuts.

HUGH DOWNS But you don't have a cold or flu.



Intelligence Journal - Get In Touch With a Hidden Workplace Enemy

Office equipment like phones and keyboards can be a breeding ground for germs.

It's not a pleasant thought, but your computer keyboard at work may be crawling with things that could make you sick. Same with our desk phone, the photocopier and the fax machine. Germs are everywhere, and their latest hiding place seems to be the office equipment, which can be a magnet for bacteria and viruses if people don't wash their hands.

Such is the sales pitch of people like Walter Peters and Keleigh Eby, a father-daughter pair who recently founded Ephrata-based ... services to rid all computers, phones, fax machines, copiers, printers, and even stereo equipment from unseen critters.

The twosome whisk into Lancaster Country businesses with their white lab coats and rubber gloves and within 15 minutes can transform a once-filthy keyboard and monitor into a clean and sanitized electronic tool."We're interested in only those people who understand that there are germs in the marketplace" says Peters, who quit his job at Strada Design Associates of Pennsylvania to start the business with his daughter. "If they understand that, then we do business. People are finally starting to discover where the germs are coming from."

"I started researching this line of work and I saw that there was this huge niche in the market where janitors and cleaning people are not allowed to touch this equipment for fear that their cleaning fluids would ruin the computer keyboard," he said.

"The whole reason why companies have never done this is there's never been a simple way of doing this."

According to a CBS Evening News report in May, for example, a toxic form of E. coli bacteria that could cause stomach ailments and possibly kidney failure was found on an ATM machine in Manhattan. And CBS found that 50% of the surfaces it tested had at least one form of deadly bacteria on them.

Additionally, the Wirthlin World wide research firm for the American Society for Microbiology surveyed 7,000 US residents and found that "while 94% of respondents said they always wash their hands after using the toilet, researchers stationed in pubic restrooms found that only 68% of adults actually do" the Calgary Herald reported in an article titled, "Getting a Grip on Germs."

Even handshakes, the Herald noted, can spread colds, flu, respiratory ailments, hepatitis A, dysentery, salmonella, and skin infections.

That said, how worried should people be that they could contract a disease form their keyboard, office copier, or desk telephone?

"The first issue is whether or not you can actually find these types of germs on public surfaces that would be a health threat, and the answer is yes," said Carl Batt, a professor of food science and microbiologist at Cornell University. "(But) the likelihood of getting sick from contact with bacteria on a public surface is extremely low,"

Most viruses like colds and the flu are spread through person-to-person contact and contact with surfaces, while most bacterial-type diseases are not spread by contact, Batt added.

Even the Manhattan ATM machine probably wasn't a health threat, he said.

"There probably wasn't enough bacteria or germs on that ATM for someone to get directly sick. Things like E. coli, you have to ingest a certain amount of these germs and you have to eat 'em."

His best advice? Do "normal things that your mom probably told you when you were growing up. Wash your hands when you go to the bathroom."

This article originally appeared in the Intelligencer Journal


If you think everyone's sick, you're wrong -- aah, Choo!

by Sharon Adams
Calgary Herald

If misery loves company, this isn't good news for anyone hacking, sniffling, and aching their way through a cold or flu right now. Bad as your symptoms are, you're not part of an epidemic.

The City of Calgary, whose 12,000 employees rank it as the largest employer in town, reports the number of sick claims is actually down 15-percent from this time last year.

"It is an exceptional year," said Larry Findlay of personnel services, who expects 1,000 sick claims bi-weekly in January and February.

Public schools and nursing homes also report normal sickness levels, said Jean Pagnucco, program director for communicable disease control with Calgary Health Services.

But there are pockets of poxy bugs. Pneumonia and strep throat are plaguing AGT tower employees.

"A lot of my co-workers are among the walking wounded," said Heather Duggan, organization development director.

Chinooks generally increase the number of people out sick at AT, sniffed Donna McWilliams, acting director of environment, health, and safety, who has a cold herself.

If you work indoors and think you're getting sick more often these days, you're probably right, said Tang Lee, architecture professor with the University of Calgary's faculty of environmental design.

Our fascination with high-tech equipment gives germs more opportunity to travel -- on all those buttons on photocopiers, fax machines, vending machines, coffee machines, and elevators.

In winter, inside workers breathe in a higher concentration of germs because building operators damper fresh air exchangers.

The average Calgary building has only 15 percent fresh air intake in winter, he said, and when it gets really cold, some buildings get no fresh air at all.

"When somebody sneezes, that microbe starts floating around."

"In a building recirculating 85% of its air, it doesn't get diluted."

"Then another person sneezes."

Workers are exposed to a higher and higher concentration of viruses and bacteria throughout the day.

To lessen your chances of taking a sick day, Lee said, keep equipment clean and get a breath of fresh air during coffee breaks. "People really need to wash their hands frequently," reminded Pagnucco.

"Don't forget adequate nutrition, fitness level, and keeping mobile," McWilliams added.

If you do get sick, Lee said, take a break from your stuffy bedroom, germ-laden pillow, and the bugs you breathe out and back in. "Force yourself to get out for five minutes," he said.


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