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It seems like every time a season changes sickness is spreading like wildfire, and not washing hands or coming into work ill always seems to be to blame. A new study has taken the guessing out of the reason behind so many falling sick at the same time, by proving that it doesn’t take much to spread a stomach bug throughout an office building. CTV News says: “The results shown that viral contamination of (surfaces) in facilities occurs quickly, and that a simple intervention can greatly help to reduce exposure to viruses.”

The research was presented at the 54th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, by Professor Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, proving that noroviruses, which cause flu and gastroenteritis, pass over contaminated surfaces from hand to mouth at a rate of forty to sixty percent in a matter of two to four hours. Professor Gerba works in the Microbiology and Environmental Sciences department; the event took place in Washington, DC in September of 2014.

How The Study Came Together

To prove this information, researchers used a surrogate tracer virus rather than norovirus onto surfaces around an office building that get touched frequently. Table tops, doorknobs, light switches, and elevator buttons were dabbed and monitored and within two to four hours there were forty to sixty percent of the virus traced to the people of the building. Samples were taken from areas that are touched often, on objects like coffee pot handles and computer mice to find what they were looking for. The team also found a solution to slowing down the virus and keeping workers healthy during such a scenario. Medical News Today says:

“He and his colleagues discovered this when they provided cleaning staff in the facilities with disinfectant wipes containing quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATS) and instructed them how to use them properly and to use them at least once a day to clean frequently touched objects and surfaces.”

The wipes reduced the virus by eighty to ninety-nine percent with the use of quaternary ammonium compounds. These have been registered by the Environmental Protection Agency as working against norovirus and the flu, and for fighting the growth of bacteria that is avoided by hand washing after use of the toilet facilities.

What This Could Mean For Largely Populated Buildings

Perhaps one of the most important outcomes of this experiment is the ability to better protect patients in largely populated hospitals and children in school buildings. The CDC has stated that norovirus numbers reach a height of twenty-one million cases each year, with eight hundred of those resulting in death. This is a much more severe number than some would assume. Fortunately, there are more than a fifteen hundred disinfectants, branded differently, in the United States that work against this particular strain of bacteria with ninety different formulations to choose from for the multiple forms of norovirus in the environment. These come in squeezable hand pumps, wipes, and spray bottles for a more convenient method of distribution. Yahoo News reports: “Keeping your distance from sick co-workers may not be enough to avoid contact with their germs: A new study shows that some viruses quickly spread through offices and other buildings, contaminating many surfaces in just hours.”

Of course, staying home from work or school when you’re ill, not coughing directly into the air or onto surfaces, and washing your hands every time you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth are also good ways to avoid spreading viruses.

Other Work Zones That Should Investigate These Solutions

Any public area can benefit from utilizing these cleaning solutions, but there are always a few areas that people don’t think about such as hotels. While it’s true that your hotel room is cleaned before you enter it, most cleaning personnel aren’t going to think about wiping down doorknobs and television remotes; they’ll be focusing on making up the bed, providing clean towels, and emptying the trash instead. It’s also possible that a cough down the hall could land in your room by the next night as cleaning crews touch multiple surfaces without washing their hands in between. Airports are another area that you might not remember to keep it clean, and the airplane isn’t going to be all that sterile either, so wash your hands and keep your fingers away from your mouth whenever possible.

Any large building can be a breeding ground for bacteria, whether it’s a gym or a community swimming pool. What is important is how you interact in that setting and what steps you take to keep yourself germ free. Hand sanitizer, washing between meals, and staying away from people who are exhibiting signs of illness are all a good place to start. Many studies have also shown that healthy eating and proper hydration can keep you feeling healthy for longer as well.