New research conducted at the University of Arizona has shed some disturbing light on how quickly germs can spread in the workplace.
Bottom line: faster than you might think!
Drs. Reynolds and Gerba asked 80 participants in an office to receive water droplets on their hands. While 79 employees received droplets of plain water, one person unknowingly received a droplet containing artificial viruses of the common cold, flu, and stomach bug. Artificial viruses can mimic the behavior of germs without actually causing infection – this was so the researchers could track the germ’s trail. (1)
The researchers waited four hours, and then tested the office for any sign of the artificial viruses. They tested common areas and the hands of the employees, and guess what? A whopping 50% of the surfaces and employees tested were carrying the artificial virus, and by the end of the workday, one of the viruses spread to 70% of the surfaces and employees tested! (1)
In the same study, employees were asked to use disinfectant wipes (as opposed to antibacterial wipes) before and after meals, as well as after large meetings with co-workers and the contamination dropped to 10%. (1)
In another study, Reynolds and Gerba contaminated the office’s push-plate doors with an artificial virus. (Push-plate doors are the swinging type door that has a thin metal plate where you push it open with your hand, like in restaurants and hospitals.) Within only two hours, the virus had contaminated the break room, coffee pot, microwave button, refrigerator door handles, office cubicles, phones, desks and computers. Within four hours, more than 50% of the common surfaces in the office and 50% of employees’ hands were contaminated!
Dr. Charles Gerba, aka “Dr. Germ,” is a nationally recognized expert in microbiology. He says that 80% of infections are spread through hand contact. (2) Picking up a coffee pot, or touching anything for that matter, and then touching the nose or mouth is the most common way germs are spread. He says that the average child touches their nose and mouth up to 50 times an hour and the average adult does it 16 times an hour. To make matters worse, they touch as many as 30 objects every 60 seconds! (2)
Some viruses can hang out on surfaces, such as a hotel TV remote, for 72 hours! Needless to say, conscientious hand washing needs to be habitual. Bathrooms, kitchens, dishrags and sinks are germ havens and require hand washing after contact. Gerba says that only 67% of people who use public bathrooms wash their hands and only 33% use soap. To add insult to injury, only 16% wash their hands long enough to even make a dent on the “hitchhikers” they picked up in the bathroom! (2)
Interestingly, Gerba is not a fan of antibacterial soaps because he says they do not work. That said, he is a big fan of disinfectants like bleach, alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, as he says that they “blow up the germs.” (2)
Dr. Gerba explains that 100 years ago infectious diseases were the number 1 cause of death, but by 1980 it had fallen to number 5. Today, it is back up to number 3 on the list, and “Dr. Germ” predicts it will likely find its way back to number 1.
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Dr. John’s Comments
The key to staying healthy is dependent on two factors: exposure and susceptibility. Clearly, we all have to do a better job of limiting our exposure by means of washing our hands regularly and thoroughly with soap so that germs cannot be exposed to areas on our bodies that have mucus membranes, such as the eyes, nose and mouth, and by routinely disinfecting commonly used surfaces. Susceptibility is something we can do much to prevent as well. The strength of our immune system plays a huge role in determining whether or not we are susceptible to viruses. Nature harvests many immune-boosting herbs each fall to help prepare the body for winter. A daily regimen of immune-supporting herbs, a diet that supports optimal digestion and detoxification, exercise, and stress management can go a long way in armoring oneself against germs.