We could tell you all the reasons you should have your
equipment cleaned or you could simply read these national and international
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
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
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
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): ...is. 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
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
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 PHILIP TIERNO Absolutely.
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
DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON So relatively means, you know, roughly, are
we talking about ...
DR PHILIP TIERNO A few feet.
DR TIMOTHY JOHNSON A few feet.
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
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
DR PHILIP TIERNO Organisms are ubiquitous, meaning everywhere
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.
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
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
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.
BARBARA WALTERS Right.
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,
"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
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
you think everyone's sick, you're wrong -- aah, Choo!
by Sharon Adams
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
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
"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.