In order to help us look for ways to prevent germs from spreading we turn to research conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona. They suspected germs are spread fast and far afield in the typical office.
To help them track how germs are spread, how to reduce the spread of infection, and how to prevent the spread of viruses, the researchers contaminated a push-plate door – the entrance to an office where 80 people work – with a virus called bacteriophage MS-2. While this virus does not infect people, it is very similar in size and shape to other viruses that do cause disease.
Within a period of two hours, the researchers found MS-2 on the following surfaces:
• The coffeepot, the microwave, and the door handle of the refrigerator in the break room
• The flush and faucet handles and other surfaces in the restrooms
• Phones, desks, computers, and computer keyboards
After four hours, researchers found MS-2 had spread to even more surfaces – as much as half of the touchable surfaces in the facility – and was detected on the hands of half of the employees working in the office. Most germs on hands are spread to others through handshakes.
Germ Survival Rates on Surfaces
Along with determining just how fast and where these spreading germs were located, the researchers were also able to determine the germ survival rates on surfaces. For instance:
• On light switches, evidence of MS-2 was found as much as four days after the test began.
• The first evidence of MS-2 was on the handles of coffeepots; however, it was typically removed after the coffeepots were washed in a dishwasher.
• Plastic and Formica surfaces and grooved keyboards were safe havens for MS-2. The germs were there for several hours to several days unless removed by hygienic cleaning.
• MS-2 can survive on water fountains for several hours to several days, in large part because the water fountain provides a moist environment.
In general, the survival rates of germs and bacteria can vary from a few seconds to several months. However, most last about two to four days on commonly touched surfaces.
Why did the researchers believe it is important to know where germs are located in an office as well as germ survival rates? Among other reasons, the average adult brings their fingers to their nose, eyes, or mouth about 16 times per day. This means that if a health-risking pathogen is on their fingers, the individual has considerable potential to become sick.
We say “potential” here because of something that is often overlooked – or simply not discussed – in articles about the spread of germs and bacteria, and that is, just because we are exposed to a virus or bacteria does not mean we are going to get sick.
A healthy adult has a “thick skin” when it comes to many types of disease-causing pathogens. We have built up immunities and protection so we do not get sick. Further, a lot depends on the size of the dose, the type of germs or bacteria, our overall health, and whether these germs and bacteria are common to the area in which we live.
This last point is a concern because as the world has become more global, germs and bacteria common in one area of the world are spreading to areas where they are not common. This means our natural immunities may be ineffective against these pathogens.
So How do We Prevent Germs from Spreading?
Effective, hygienic, and frequent cleaning is the only way to minimize the spread of germs in the office and eliminate any that are present. Some ways to do this include the following:
• If using a disinfectant on surfaces, remember to clean first then use the disinfectant. It’s a two-step process.
• That said, a disinfectant may not be necessary. Restrooms, fixtures, walls, and high-touch surfaces cleaned with no-touch cleaning systems have been rid of pathogens, rendering them safe and healthy, without the use of disinfectants.
Because we have far more direct and indirect contact with floor surfaces than we realize, floors should be frequently cleaned using a no-touch or even better, an autovac cleaning system. These systems not only physically remove the pathogens but also help prevent them from spreading, as they are when using mops.
We would be remiss if we did not also mention the role of handwashing and hand sanitizers in preventing the spread of germs. Just like the no-touch cleaning system, handwashing actually removes microbes from the hands.
A sanitizer kills germs on the surface of the hand but does not remove them. In addition, deeply embedded microbes in the pores of our hands may go untouched by hand sanitizers. To help protect your health and to stop spreading germs in the office, place frequent handwashing at the top of your to-do list.
For more information on ways to prevent germs from spreading, reducing germ survival rates, and eliminating germs and bacteria from surfaces, contact Kaivac.
Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor, having owned, operated, and then sold three contract cleaning companies in Northern California.
He is the author of two books about the industry and continues to be a frequent writer for the industry.
Robert is now president of AlturaSolutions Communications, which provides communications and marketing services for organizations in the professional cleaning and building industries.