Do You Know How Quickly Germs Spread?
Research at the University of Arizona sheds some disturbing light on how quickly germs can spread in the workplace and the best way to protect yourselves!
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 mimic behavior of germs without causing infection—this was so researchers could track the germ’s trail.1
After four hours, the researchers tested the office for signs of the artificial viruses. They tested common areas and hands of employees, and guess what? A whopping 50% of surfaces and employees tested were carrying artificial viruses. By the end of the workday, one virus had spread to 70% of surfaces and employees tested! 1
What about Disinfectant Wipes?
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. 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 with a thin metal plate you push to open, common 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 common surfaces and 50% of employee’s hands were contaminated!
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Dr. Germ on Hand Washing
Dr. Charles Gerba, aka “Dr. Germ,” is a nationally recognized expert in microbiology. He says 80% of infections are spread through hand contact. Picking up a coffee pot, or touching anything for that matter, and then touching the nose or mouth is the most common way germs spread. He says the average child touches their nose and mouth up to 50 times an hour, while the average adult does it 16 times an hour. To make matters worse, we 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 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 make a dent on the “hitchhikers” they picked up in the bathroom!2
Interestingly, Gerba is not a fan of antibacterial soaps, which he says do not work. That said, he is a big fan of disinfectants like bleach, alcohol, and hydrogen peroxide, which he says “blow up the germs.”2
Dr. Gerba explains that 100 years ago infectious diseases were the number one cause of death, but by 1980, had fallen to number five. Today, it is back up to number three, and Dr. Germ predicts it will likely find its way back to number one.
Do Masks Work?
The Guardian reports some studies suggest wearing a mask will offer a five-fold protection compared to not wearing one. They conclude that, “If you are likely to be in close contact with someone infected, a mask cuts the chance of the disease being passed on. If you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, or have been diagnosed, wearing a mask can also protect others. So masks are crucial for health and social care workers looking after patients and are also recommended for family members who need to care for someone who is ill—ideally both the patient and caregiver should have a mask. However, masks will probably make little difference if you’re just walking around town or taking a bus so there is no need to bulk-buy a huge supply.”4
That said, I would not depend on a mask because there are other studies that show that they are less effective. In one study, use of surgical masks or even N95 respirators have been shown to be no different in preventing infection than not wearing them. In one study of 32 healthcare workers, there was no difference between those who wore a medical mask and those who didn’t. A Canadian study of 422 hospital nurses compared N95 respirators and medical masks: influenza rate was 25% in both groups.3
Two other larger studies were unable to demonstrate significant difference in influenza infection between N95 respirators and medical masks.1 Finally, a recent study examined efficacy of cloth masks compared to medical masks and control groups, and found cloth masks may increase risk of infection in healthcare workers because droplets can build up inside the mask.3
Dr. John’s Comments: Exposure + Susceptibility
The key to staying healthy is dependent on two factors: exposure and susceptibility. Clearly, we all have to do a better job of limiting exposure by washing our hands regularly and thoroughly with soap so that germs cannot be exposed to areas with mucus membranes, such as 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 offers 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.