1 sick person in office can contaminate half of the workplace by lunchtime

Last Updated: Sat, Feb 02, 2013 06:10 hrs

When an ill colleague turns up to work coughing and sneezing, it really is better if they stay at home, such is the speed that germs spread around an office, a new study suggests.

Scientists at the University of Arizona have discovered that when even one person comes to work sick, more than half of the commonly touched surfaces in the office will become infected with the virus by lunchtime, the Daily Mail reported.

Some of the likeliest germ hotpots include telephones, desktops, tabletops, doorknobs, photocopier and lift buttons and the office fridge.

However, the study also revealed that simple interventions, such as hand washing and the use of hand sanitiser or wipes, can drastically reduce employees' risk of infection.

Conducted in an office, the study included about 80 participants, some of whom received droplets on their hands at the start of a normal work day.

While most of those droplets were plain water, one person unknowingly received a droplet containing artificial viruses mimicking the cold, the flu and a stomach bug.

Employees were instructed to go about their day as usual. After about four hours, researchers sampled commonly touched surfaces in the office, as well as employees' hands, and found that more than 50 percent of surfaces and employees were infected with at least one of the viruses.

"We were actually quite surprised by how effectively everything spread. I didn't expect to find it as much as I did," Kelly Reynolds, UA associate professor of public health at the university said.

And that was in an office environment where people work primarily in isolated spaces, she added.

Researchers swabbed surfaces and hands again at the end of the work day. By then, the cold and flu viruses, known for their short survival time, had dissipated, but the stomach virus had continued to spread, infecting up to 70 percent of surfaces tested.

Although the cold and flu germs had died off by the day's end, risk to employees was still high since little exposure is necessary to make someone sick, Reynolds said.

The researchers calculated that employees faced a 40 to 90 percent chance of infection with one of the three viruses. (ANI)

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