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Sharp Health News

Caution: germs at work

Sept. 22, 2015

Germs at work

Think about the most common places you'll come in contact with unwanted germs. Is it a public bathroom, the handles of a grocery cart or the handrail at the mall?

Actually, one of the worst places for germ exposure is at work. Yes, the place you spend several hours each day is a haven for viruses and other microorganisms.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid the spread of germs and to promote a healthy workplace for you and your coworkers.

Dr. Phil Yphantides, medical director of Sharp Rees-Stealy Urgent Care Centers, answers four frequently asked questions about germs in the workplace and offers common-sense solutions to fight the spread of what kids call “cooties” and doctors call “the reason for the flu season.”

How are germs spread around the workplace?
Say an employee with a cold goes to work and is coughing and sneezing into their hand. As they cough and sneeze, they are spreading respiratory droplets, which can be inhaled by those anywhere within 20 feet, making them sick as well. Think about it: We are touching hundreds of things and people throughout the day that have been touched by others who are also touching a variety of things and people. The germs are transferred from one to the next with ease.

Where do germs exist at work?
You're going to find more germs on your telephone, desktop, computer keyboard and computer mouse than you'll find in the average public bathroom. Most people do not wipe down their desk surfaces. Over time, the surfaces collect a lot of dust, skin oil and food material, making a very nice environment for bacteria to thrive. We don't think twice about eating at our desks at work even though the average desk is home to 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat.

Do hand sanitizers work?
In recent studies, hand sanitizers have been shown to be as effective as washing with soap and water to eliminate most germs from the hands. Our hands are the number one way we contact our environment, so they become covered with germs quite quickly. Although nine out of 10 adults say they wash their hands after using a public restroom, only six out of 10 were actually observed doing so in a recent study. You can imagine what this means in terms of germs being spread.

How can I help prevent germs in my office?
Number one: use tissues and hand sanitizer often. I advise people to keep gel hand sanitizer at their desk — and to use it! It's not there for decoration. Number two: wipe down your workspace surfaces regularly with a good antiseptic wipe. Number three: wipe down common areas including shared desk space, counter spaces, the copy machine and doorknobs. Telephones should also be regularly wiped down periodically with antiseptic wipes.

Talk to the maintenance staff or manager at your workplace and request that tissues or paper towels are provided at the exit of each restroom to be used to open the door instead of using one's bare hands. Strategically placed hand sanitizer dispensers — near elevators or entrances — can also help reduce the unwanted spread of germs.

Your health is quite literally in your own hands. Wash them regularly, use hand sanitizer and remember to keep the places where germs like to live clean, especially at your place of work.

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