This Is How Quickly Germs Spread in the Office

Help stop germs from spreading so quickly. 

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

This article originally appeared in Inc.

Flu season will soon be here, and with it come the microscopic germs that people in close quarters so desperately—and in many cases unsuccessfully—try to avoid. 

While it would be spectacular to have germ-ray vision in order to see exactly who and what are contaminating the office at any given time, researchers from the University of Arizona did the next best thing: They traced how germs spread throughout the course of a day.

The researchers recently performed their experiment in an office building with 80 employees. “They contaminated a push-plate door at the building entrance with a virus called bacteriophage MS-2,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “It doesn’t infect people yet is similar in shape, size, and survivability to common cold and stomach flu viruses.” 

So where’d the virus head first? 

Straight to the break room. After two hours it was found on the coffee pot, microwave button, and refrigerator handle. Next, it traveled to the restrooms and from there it finally made its way to offices and cubicles.

Just four hours after the researchers introduced the virus, about 50 percent of office workers had it on their hands. It also sat on half of the most commonly touched surfaces in the building. 

Gross? Yes. Concerning? Not terribly. Exposure to a virus or bacteria doesn’t necessarily lead to sickness. For example, studies at day care centers have found that 30 to 40 percent of asymptomatic children had respiratory viruses on them, according to WSJ

Microbiologists say that whether or not you’ll get sick after exposure depends on three main factors: the number of virus particles you’ve encountered, previous exposure history (if you’ve had the virus before, you probably won’t get it again), and your overall health.

So one of the things you can do to improve your chances of staying virus-free during flu season, for example, is to make sure you’re getting enough sleep.

And of course, watch where you put your hands. Scientists have mixed opinions about the efficacy of hand sanitizer since it can kill good bacteria, which can help fight off bad bacteria. So it might be best to forgo the sanitizer and simply limit the number of surfaces you touch each day. This especially includes other peoples’ hands. 

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