Germs and their habitats out there

FOR example, consider computer keyboards. Noting how often we come into contact with keyboards, it should come as little surprise that the keys and spaces in between are a convenient haven for bacteria and other microbes.

"Keyboards are clearly contaminated," says Dr Pascal James Imperato, distinguished service professor, chairman of the department of preventive medicine and community health, and director of the master of public health program at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in New York City.

Anatomy of a disease outbreak

In January 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that a norovirus outbreak at a Washington, D.C., elementary school in February 2007 that sickened more than 100 may have been spread through contaminated computer equipment.

Specifically, according to an article in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a computer mouse and keyboard in one first-grade classroom tested positive for the virus, which is linked to a disease commonly called stomach flu.

The article authors noted: "This outbreak is the first report of norovirus detected on a computer mouse and keyboard, which highlights the possible role of computer equipment in disease transmission and the difficulty in identifying and properly disinfecting all possible environmental sources of norovirus during outbreaks."

Ice cubes compared with toilet water reported recently that toilet water has less bacteria than ice cubes served to customers at 21 of the 49 restaurants surveyed in the Chicago area.

However, experts caution against undue alarm.

"It's not like you'll see people dropping over dead or huge numbers getting sick because it's going to take just the right bacteria and the right person to make them ill," said Penn State University's Brian Swistock, co-author of the university's publication "Water Tests: What Do the Numbers Mean?"

However, they do say that the bacteria found in ice could explain a lot of mystery stomach ailments people get after eating out.

Related articles:

Bacteria: friend and foe

Germs in our life: what is our response?