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December 29, 2013

A touch of bleach may save the day

MOULTRIE — Those people looking to make cleaning up a focus in the new year may want to look no farther than their work desks or pocket or purse where they keep cell phones.

With studies showing that those often-handled items can be as germy as a toilet seat, it may be a good idea to learn how to minimize the risks of encountering another type of computer virus.

A 2007 study by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention of a norovirus outbreak in a Washington, D.C., elementary school showed that dirty computer equipment was responsible for some of the illnesses.

In that episode, out of 380 students and faculty members there were 103 cases of gastrointestinal illness.

Often called stomach flu, the norovirus causes nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea and abdominal pain. It can be spread by fecally contaminated food or water, contamination of surfaces and person-to-person contact.

The CDC found norovirus contamination in one of the classrooms where students shared the equipment. Person-to-person transmission also accounted for some of the spread of the virus. The virus also sickened students in other classrooms where computer equipment was not shared and in other school grades.

Colquitt County experienced what health officials described as a “community wide” norovirus outbreak in March. The virus can live for several days on hard surfaces and infect those who touch them.

Shigella, a bacterial infection that like norovirus causes diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, is another illness that can sweep through a school system.

An outbreak occurred in March 2009 at a Head  Start center in Colquitt County.

A bleach solution is required to kill both norovirus and shigella on hard surfaces.

The recommended cleaning of contaminated surfaces depends on the situation, said Carolyn Maschke, public information officer for the Southwest Georgia Health District, which includes Colquitt County.

“Since each infectious agent is different, our epidemiologist must investigate and determine what cleaning procedure should be used to sanitize items that are contaminated,” she said in an email. “In other words, cleaning a phone that has been used by someone that has MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) may not even be necessary if the person’s site of infection is completely covered, preventing exposure -- while a phone handled by someone with shigella might be contaminated for days if not cleaned properly with a product containing bleach.”

The first line of protection against the spread of these kinds of bugs is thoroughly washing hands frequently, staying home when sick and getting vaccinated against diseases for which vaccines are available, Maschke said.

“If you share a computer or phone, you are indeed sharing your germs, just as you are sharing them if you share a gym towel in a locker room or a toy in a childcare center,” she said. “But if you don’t share them with others, then the germs you shed on them don’t pose that much of a risk to others.”

At Colquitt County Schools all elementary schools have technology clubs that help keep computers clean, Schools Superintendent Samuel DePaul said.

“One of their projects is to keep the keyboards clean,” he said.

Hand sanitizer also is available in every classroom, DePaul said. Computer equipment also is cleaned in other schools, but due to schools being on holiday he could not immediately determine how often it is done.

“Probably the best defense is the continued encouragement of kids washing their hands,” he said.

Computer mouses and keyboards can be cleaned, but care should be taken not to damage fragile laptop keyboards, said Robert Wubker of Phoenix Computers in Moultrie.

A paper towel dampened with Lysol could be used, he said.

The CDC recommends a solution of one part bleach to 50 parts water for killing bugs like norovirus and shigella on surfaces.

A small amount of bleach could be used on computers, Wubker said. Whatever is used, it is important not to get too much moisture on sensitive equipment. Too strong a bleach solution also could eat the coating off keys and damage the plastic.

“I would say don’t squeeze it (paper towel), because you’re going to get it wet,” he said. “As long as it’s just as moist as one of those antibacterial wipes it should be OK.”

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Don Broome and Colquitt County Probate Court Judge Wes Lewis calibrate voter cards on Tuesday. Broome, who supervise election night tallies, said that all cards are programmed for voting machines and sealed inside. They are not unsealed and removed until after the election.

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