By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Researchers at the University of Arizona have “clocked” the speed and spread of germs in an office setting, and it’s faster than you can imagine. They found that just a single door contaminated with a virus can allow the bug to proliferate to about 50 percent of office surfaces and employee hands within four hours.
In the experiment, researchers applied a non-infecting virus similar in size, shape, and viability to common cold viruses onto a push-plate door at the entrance. Within just two hours, the germs spread to the break room coffee pot, microwave controls, and refrigerator door handle. Later, the virus moved on to further infect the restrooms, personnel cubicles and offices, phones, desks, and keyboards.
The researchers then gave a portion of the employees hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. When those individuals were tested, the detection of the virus dropped from 39 to 11 percent.
A similar spread time was seen in an earlier study where an individual worker was “infected” with a harmless artificial virus. In four hours, the virus was also detected on half the hands of co-workers and commonly touched areas.
My Viewpoint: When I was in active practice, we had patients with a cold or flu wash their hands and wear a mask to avoid spreading infection in the waiting room. Any communal place can be a breeding ground for germs. TV remotes, light switches, faucets, and door handles are all germ magnets. Spreading germs from your hands to susceptible tissues inside your body is easy to do when you consider that adults will put their fingers to their nose, mouth, or eyes something like fifteen times an hour, and youngsters – as many as fifty times.
What This Means to You: Louis Pasteur, the famous nineteenth century French chemist, was the father of the germ theory of disease. However, later in his career he asserted that germs do not cause disease unless the organism is in a weakened state. “The germ is nothing,” he said. “The terrain is everything.” The terrain is your body and your immune system. Make it strong and be prudent, because it may not be enough to keep your distance from a sick colleague and avoid handshakes.
My Recommendation: Keeping your hands clean is a good practice anytime. Use a paper towel to open the door in public restrooms. If you are ultra squeamish about germs, consider using antimicrobial wipes. Above all, keep your immune system strong!
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