02/03/2013 11:42 pm ET

Sick Person's Germs Spread To Half Of Commonly Touched Office Surfaces, Study Finds

If you thought you could avoid your sick coworkers' germs by just covering your nose and mouth when they sneeze, we have some bad news to deliver -- you probably won't be able to escape their germs because they get EVERYWHERE.

New yet-to-be-published research conducted by scientists at the University of Arizona shows that half of the most commonly touched surfaces in the office (like the coffee pot handle, tabletops, doorknobs and phones) can become infected with a sick person's germs -- all by lunchtime.

The study, conducted by public health professor Kelly Reynolds and germ expert Charles Gerba, involved having 80 people go about their regular work-day business in an office at the university. Most of the study participants received droplets of water on their hands at the beginning of the day, but one of the participants got droplets of fake viruses, which acted like the cold, flu and stomach flu viruses, that researchers were able to test for in the office environment later on.

The researchers found that after just four hours, more than half of the office surfaces had traces of the fake viruses. And by the end of the day, 70 percent of the tested surfaces had traces of the fake stomach flu viruses (cold and flu viruses have a shorter survival time, so had largely dissipated by the end of the day).

The findings were surprising because the office setting wasn't one where people were milling about constantly.

"They basically go in their offices, sit in their chairs and are on their computers. They may go to the bathroom, and they have a common kitchen area they share and a photocopy machine, but that's about it," Reynolds said in a statement.

Researchers said that the risk of getting sick from one of these fake viruses was between 40 and 90 percent.

"Most people think it's coughing and sneezing that spreads germs, but the number of objects you touch is incredible, especially in this push-button generation. We push more buttons than any other generation in history," Gerba said in the statement.

The researchers then conducted a second study where free tissues, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes were offered to the employees. The risk of becoming infected with one of the fake viruses went down to 10 perfect.

But what if the sick person is living in your home? Click here for our tips for staying healthy when you're caring for a flu patient.



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