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Flu-proof all of your gadgets

| Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

I'm always talking about the importance of keeping your computer safe from viruses that can expose your sensitive digital information. Today, I'm going to talk about the low-tech kind of virus.

A cold or flu can shut down your productivity just as quickly as any computer virus outbreak. Sneezing and coughing aren't the only way viruses spread. Flu viruses can stay active on hard surfaces – such as keyboards, mice, tablets and smartphones – for a few days.

If you touch a germy keyboard and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, chances are good that you'll get sick.

Your first line of defense is to get a flu shot and to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If hand washing isn't convenient, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Cleaning your gadgets at home and at work is another great defense.

Before you start cleaning, be sure to power down your gear. If it uses AC power, unplug it.

Don't spray cleaners directly onto electronic items or let liquids seep into openings.

Don't use alcohol-based cleaners and abrasive cloths or paper towels on screens and monitors.

• Phones and tablets: Phones are like petri dishes for germs and bacteria. In fact, tests show that mobile gadgets can have more bacteria than a toilet.

Give your phone, and tablet, a good rubdown with a microfiber cloth to clear it of germs and bacteria. Dampen the cloth slightly for more-stubborn stains and fingerprints.

Be sure to wash your microfiber cloths — or use antimicrobial versions — to avoid germ buildup.

Stick-on screen protectors can be cleaned a little more aggressively and replaced as needed.

• Computers and accessories: You're constantly touching a keyboard and mouse at work and at home. So it's a good idea to wipe them down daily. It's especially important when you share a computer.

If your keyboard and mouse are wired, unplug them from the computer. If they're wireless, shut them off and remove the batteries.

A keyboard that hasn't been cleaned for a couple of years probably has a fair amount of bread and potato chip crumbs lodged between the keys. A few blasts of compressed air will do the trick.

Next, do a few passes with bleach-free disinfecting wipes.

Have a laptop? Clean off the keyboard and track pad the same way. Just be sure the laptop is turned off.

To clean a desktop computer case, use a disinfecting wipe to go over plastic and metal surfaces. For the display, use a soft, slightly damp lint-free cloth.

Make sure that the wipes you use aren't overly damp.

• Other surfaces: You'll definitely want to wipe down the top of your desk.

If you have a landline, wipe the handle and mouthpiece regularly with a disinfecting wipe.

Place a bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer and a box of tissues next to your computer. If a tissue isn't handy, sneeze and cough into your elbow to avoid broadcasting germs.

Any surface should be disinfected routinely if more than one person touches it. Think remote controls, doorknobs, appliance handles and faucets.

If everyone puts in a little effort, we can all stay healthier this flu season. Now do one more thing ... share this article.

Email Kim Komando at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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