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Viruses can zoom through workplaces in hours

But hand-sanitizing wipes reduce spread, experiment shows

4:44pm, September 9, 2014
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WASHINGTON — A virus on an office door handle can spread to more than half the people working there within a few hours, say researchers at the University of Arizona in Tucson. But when people use hand sanitizers and disinfect their work stations, transmission drops off sharply, they reported September 8 at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

Microbiologist Charles Gerba and his colleagues planted an innocuous virus on a doorknob or tabletop in three settings — a health care facility, an office and a conference room, with the consent of the workers.  The virus showed up on 40 to 60 percent of employees within two to four hours and was found on surfaces in a coffee break room, bed rails in the health facility, phones and computers.

The scientists used a virus that infects bacteria, not people, and wasn’t previously present in these buildings. However, the virus sticks to hands and surfaces much like norovirus, a common human scourge.

When Gerba and his colleagues offered participants alcohol- or ammonia-based wipes to disinfect hands and surfaces, only about half used them. But that was enough to reduce virus presence by 80 percent, the researchers found.

Disinfection improves a person’s probability of staying well, Gerba says.  “In an office building, the odds need to be kept in your favor in cold and flu season.”


C.P. Gerba. Impact of quaternary ammonium compound (QAC) disinfectant on the spread of viruses in facilities. Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents & Chemotherapy, Washington, D.C. September 8, 2014. 

Further Reading

N. Seppa. Hotel-room surfaces can harbor virusesScience News, Vol. 170, October 14, 2006, p. 254.

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