“Keyboard cooties,” germ-infested keyboards on public computers, telephones and ATM keypads, are getting attention as a possible threat to public health.

ABC NEWS reported that bacteria from skin flakes, bits of food and other unmentionables lingering on computer keyboards in schools, offices and libraries might make you sick.

“Tech TV” staffers took a keyboard from a computer that is shared by many people, packed it up and sent it to a lab for testing. Results came back negative for deadly germs like salmonella and e-coli but did show presence of “gram-positive” bacteria, which can include staphylococcus, the organism behind staph infections and strep throat.

Researchers investigating a 2002 outbreak of conjunctivitis, a type of eye infection also called “pink-eye,” among students at Dartmouth College said the germs may have spread, in part, through shared keyboards on university computers, Reuters reported.

It isn’t clear whether surface germs that show up in laboratory tests can actually make people sick.

“At this point we don’t know if keyboards are responsible for spreading germs,” Dr. Cynthia G. Whitney of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta told Reuters.

But Whitney said shared keyboards are just as likely to spread illness as other surfaces, adding that many pathogens, such as those that cause diarrhea, skin infections, colds and other respiratory infections, are known to survive for some time on surfaces.

The National Consumers League says ATM machines and public phones are among top contaminated surfaces, along with doorknobs and any shared keyboard.

Hand washing can dramatically reduce the spread of germs, but in a recent NCL survey, one in four Americans admitted they didn’t regularly wash their hands.

Using anti-bacterial wipes or alcohol wipes will also kill bacteria around your desk, according to ABC NEWS. And don’t forget the phone, your computer mouse and other frequently touched zones.

If you’re considering an alcohol-based cleaner, be warned: The black lettering on some keyboards starts to come off if you use alcohol too often. And, just to be safe, unplug your keyboard from the back of your computer before cleaning off the keys.

Jodi Mathews is news writer for EthicsDaily.com.

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