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Are Your Coworkers Making You Sick?

Patrick Boshell
November 12, 2013
Sick coworkers

Yes, according to a new survey that says 90% of office workers come to work when sick.  Even worse, they know their coughing and sneezing may be infecting others, but 45% said an ever-growing workload makes it necessary.


"Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick.  People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs," according to the CDC



People can also catch the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.  Studies have also shown that human influenza viruses can survive on surfaces between 2 and 8 hours. 


So what are some of germiest places in your office?  Researchers including Dr. Charles Gerba from the University of Arizona, swabbed some 4,800 surfaces in office buildings to find out.  Office types included manufacturing facilities, law firms, insurance companies, health care companies, and call centers.  Here's a list of the top 6 places to avoid this flu season based on the study results.


  1. break room sink-faucet handles

  2. microwave door handles

  3. keyboards

  4. refrigerator door handles

  5. water fountain buttons

  6. vending machine buttons


Also, "Watch out for linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick.  Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap.  Frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected, especially if someone is ill," recommends the CDC. 


Since our hands are responsible for the spread of 80% of common infectious diseases, effective hand hygiene continues to be universally recognized as the smartest, most cost effective means of infection control in the workplace. 


The sad reality is people do not wash their hands frequently or adequately enough. In fact, the average person washes their hands for only around 10 seconds which at best will remove about 90% of germs. The problem is the remaining bacteria will grow and can double in number in less than 20 minutes and in 80 minutes can be back to the number prior to washing. 


In addition to these inadequate hand washing habits, most people also do not use the correct technique for washing hands and indeed, many critical parts of the hands are missed during normal hand washing, even when soap is used.  Learn more about proper hand hygiene to help prevent the flu here. 


There are simple, practical steps that employers can take as part of their flu season procedures, such as providing the workforce with information on flu vaccination clinics and improving cleaning procedures.  To learn more, please accesses these CDC resources for businesses and employers including a toolkit and print materials.


Organizations can reduce the risk of spreading germs by providing adequate hand washing facilities and promoting the use of a hand sanitizer applied regularly to clean, dry hands to compliment routine hand washing.  Studies show that good hand hygiene practices can reduce illness, absenteeism and associated costs by up to 50%. 


Finally, be sure to take everyday preventive steps like staying away from sick coworkers and washing your hands.  If you are sick with the flu, please stay home to help prevent spreading influenza to others.  Learn more about good health habits to help prevent the flu from the CDC here.                                                                                                            

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