It should be well known by now that we are surrounded by bacteria, mostly benign, all the time — inside and out.  Some reporters still attempt to gross out the public and make misleading statements from scientific findings.

Men’s Offices Have More Bacteria, Study Finds.”  National Geographic reported this alongside a photo of office bubbas, visually suggesting that the ladies should keep their distance from the male germ bags.  Further reading, however, reveals that the reason may simply be that men are bigger in general, not necessarily dirtier. There was only a suggestion by the authors that men, in general, are more “slovenly” in their hygiene habits, although that was not a focus or observation in this study.  By implication, if women were larger on average than men, the ratios would reverse.

The report is based on research published in PLoS ONE.  Researchers surveyed bacteria in 30 offices each from cities as distant from each other as San Francisco, New York and Tucson, taking samples from phones, computer keyboards and mice, chairs and desktops. Interesting results emerged:

  • About 500 species of bacteria inhabit offices – similar to amounts previously measured in bathrooms and airplanes.
  • Most of the bacteria are common species that live on human skin or in nasal, oral, or intestinal tracts.  A few were identified as soil-borne.
  • Sample sets from New York and San Francisco were indistinguishable.  Tucson, however, had a clearly distinguishable microbial set.
  • There were no significant differences in the bacterial diversity between offices inhabited by men or women.
  • The differences in germ counts between men and women was found to be approximately 255 to 215 (mean), but within error, could be as little as 240 to 220….

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