Are You Working with Dangerous Germs?

In the final installment of our series "Germ Warfare," CBS News correspondent Kelly Wallace looked at how germy, and potentially disease-ridden, the workplace can be.

Wallace reported work days lost due to illness and injury carry total annual costs of nearly $63 billion, according to a study in the July Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

However, in some cases, Wallace said, it may be the workplace itself that's responsible for the sick time.

So how much bacteria and germs do you really come into contact with at work?

Dr. Charles Gerba -- also known as Dr. Germ -- has been tracking the levels of disease-causing bacteria for 10 years. He uses a germ-meter, which gives a relative idea of how many bacteria are living on a surface.

Armed with cotton swabs, Gerba and his team at of the University of Arizona have collected over 7,000 samples from workplaces around the country and found that the average workplace has 21,000 bacteria per square inch.

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That may not mean much to you, but compare it to the average workplace toilet that has an average of just 49 bacteria per square inch, according to Gerba. Wallace said that means your workplace may have 400 times more bacteria than your office toilet.

Gerba said, "People don't usually start cleaning the desktop until they're sticking to it."

Wallace decided find out how much bacteria and germs lived on her own desk and in her workplace with Gerba.

Television stations are statistically the filthiest, according to Gerba.

So how did "The Early Show"'s busy workplace measure up?

Wallace and Gerba took a look at the CBS workplace environment with his "germ-meter" and found desks, phones, door handles, elevator buttons and other common surfaces were a veritable Petri dish of germs.

In some areas, such as on desktops, he found hundreds of thousands of germs, while in others, such as on the elevator button, he found millions.

But how did Wallace's own desk measure up?

Gerba had the highest reading he said he'd ever seen on a desk.

Gerba told Wallace, "You may have a new life form evolving there."

Wallace added on "The Early Show" that her phone and keyboard were much cleaner than her desktop.

"Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez, who had a relatively low count of bacteria on her desk, said she likes to use disinfecting wipes to keep her surfaces as clean as they can be.
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