According to a research study out today, home office surfaces are cluttered with millions of bacteria that could potentially cause illness.

In the new home version of “Germs in the Workplace,” researchers led by the University of Arizona’s Dr. Charles Gerba compared bacteria levels on common office surfaces in both home-office and traditional-office environments. Results are in and the desktops in the home-office harbor more bacteria than traditional-office desktops. In fact, more than four times as many bacteria were found on home desktops compared to traditional desktops. Many surfaces in traditional-offices still contain high levels of bacteria, but the study shows home-offices are surprising offenders.

“Although telecommuting offers many benefits like increased productivity and morale, and, of course, the luxury of working in your pajamas, home-office workers need to practice the same healthy habits as the rest of the workforce,” Gerba said.

For the study samples were collected in winter 2007 from private-offices and home-offices in San Francisco, New York and Tucson. More than 400 surfaces were tested and samples were analyzed at the University of Arizona laboratories.

“Surprisingly high germ levels in home offices may be due to the fact that people think their homes are already clean, or that the germs in their home offices are just their own and therefore harmless,” Gerba said. “But, regardless of whose they are, there’s a chance the germs can make you sick.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, nearly 5.5 million Americans worked at home, accounting for approximately 4% of the total workforce. Thanks to recent studies that found home-bound workers to be highly productive, telecommuting rates are ever-increasing, as many employers hire new employees to telecommute right from the start.

Gerba’s previous “Germs in the Workplace” studies have looked at the presence of bacteria and viruses in traditional office settings; germiest jobs and whether men’s offices have more germs then women’s offices. Other research shows that some viruses like influenza, can survive on surfaces for up to three days (Bean B. et al. 1982).

Gerba recommends frequent hand-washing and using disinfecting wipes daily on hard, nonporous surfaces in your cubicle or office to kill germs.

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