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Study tracks how sick employees spread germs at work

By Keith McCord | Posted - Jan 31st, 2013 @ 8:04pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — One sick employee can send germs spreading through an entire workplace at lightning speed.

That's according to a new study, conducted by the University of Arizona, which found that if someone comes to work sick, by lunchtime about half of the common surfaces touched by employees will be infected with the virus.

KSL conducted an experiment to show all the things that one employee touched throughout a typical work day. In the parking garage, he touched the doorknob leading to the stairway. Then he touched another doorknob and then an elevator button, which dozens of other employees also touch.

Then two more doors were touched, then the refrigerator door handle when he was putting his lunch away. Next he touched his phone when he checked for messages, then the keyboard at his desk.

"It's very easy for somebody to touch just about every surface in a room, and leave enough virus just about every where they go," said Dr. Sankar Swaminathan, an Infectious Disease Specialist at University Hospital.

The University of Arizona study followed 80 participants during their work day, watching what and where they touched. One person was given a water droplet on the hands that mimicked a cold, flu and stomach virus. Four hours later, researchers did some sampling and found that about 50 percent of common office surfaces had been infected by the one employee.

The study also found that 80 percent of those surveyed say they still go to the office when they are under the weather.

The survey said a sick employee will cost a company about $280 in lost productivity. That adds up as more and more people get sick.

"Actually, some viruses are not that long-lived, but long enough," Dr. Swaminathan said. "An hour or two is certainly enough for somebody else to get it."

The study showed that cold and flu germs usually die off by the end of the day, but Dr. Swaminathan emphasized that if people are sick, they should just stay home from to avoid getting fellow employees sick.

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