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a stomach upset caused by bacteria on dirty computer keyboards
'Next time you sit down at your computer, beware of germs! That's the message from consumer group Which? … Their research claims that office keyboards aid the spread of harmful bacteria that could cause stomach bugs or, as they call it, a 'qwerty tummy'.'Hamilton Advertiser 6th May 2008
As you read this article, are you taking time out, sitting comfortably and munching on a few snacks? Or perhaps it's lunchtime and you've got a sandwich on the go, which when lifted to your mouth is gently, almost imperceptibly, discharging tiny particles of bread into the innards of your keyboard? 'So what?' you say, 'No one will notice, my keyboard doesn't look dirty …'. Be warned, however, because what you may not realize is that you're unwittingly exposing yourself to the risk of falling prey to qwerty tummy.
recent reports … claim that mice regularly leave droppings in computer keyboards as they hunt for food during hours of darkness
Anyone who regularly uses a computer for work is probably tempted at some time or other to have a little nosh whilst sitting at their desk. Often this is unavoidable – for those of us who have a pressurized work schedule, an al desko lunch is sometimes the only option. Unless we're incredibly fanatical about cleaning, it's inevitable that particles of food are going to end up on our desk, and those cracks and crevices on the keyboard are the likely receptacles. Crumbs are usually trapped there forever – resistant to the efforts of even the most tenacious of keyboard cleaners. The problem is then that such food deposits can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. These bacteria can cause nasty stomach upsets, which we could catch by simply touching the keyboard as we type – hence qwerty tummy. Further health hazards can develop when offices are left empty overnight, as it seems that we're not the only creatures who enjoy food al desko! Recent reports from the UK's Royal Society of Chemists claim that mice regularly leave droppings in computer keyboards as they hunt for food during hours of darkness. One bemused office worker reportedly couldn't understand why 'seeds' popped out of her keyboard as she typed, even though she never ate at her desk – I'll leave the rest to your imagination!
The term qwerty tummy first appeared in 2008, coined by consumer group Which? in the context of a study on office hygiene. Scientific experts swabbed 33 computer keyboards for food poisoning bugs such as e-coli and staphylococcus, comparing the results to those found on lavatory seats and door handles. The findings, which experts claimed were typical of offices all over Britain, were shocking, with some keyboards harbouring five times more bacteria than lavatory seats. The currently common practice of hotdesking – where office workers sit at different desks every week (and so each keyboard is used by a range of people) – is also thought to exacerbate the risk of qwerty tummy.
In the term, qwerty, sometimes appearing in capitalized form QWERTY, relates to the expression QWERTY keyboard, the classic keyboard arrangement first patented in 1868. The non-alphabetical arrangement of letters on the keyboard (resulting in the keys 'Q', 'W', 'E', 'R', 'T' and 'Y' appearing at the top left) was a deliberate design feature intended to mix up frequently used pairs of letters and therefore prevent the jamming of keys, which could occur if a typist worked too quickly. Though keys haven't run the risk of sticking for decades, the keyboard format has, and seems unlikely to change in the near future. The persistent use of the QWERTY format inspired the expression QWERTY phenomenon, coined in 1980 to refer to the general tendency to continue using the first available system or product, despite the fact that new ideas or technology might provide better alternatives.
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This article was first published on 11th October 2010.
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