12 December 2014

Wash Your Hands!

How many times have I seen someone sneeze into a hand that soon reached out to open a door or grab the office coffee pot or shake another hand? 

Washing hands with soap and
water. (multiple websites)
How many times have I seen some guy bypass a sink when exiting the public restroom?

How many times have I…oh, never mind. No, I’m not a germaphobe; I just wish people would wash their hands. Don’t you?

Welcome back. Last September researchers from the University of Arizona presented their study of how quickly and easily a virus spreads. The media went with the conference press release, but I held off sharing it with you. I thought it might incite panic. Besides, it was only a conference paper awaiting peer review for publication, which I think is still underway.

Well, I was wrong. I should have broadcast it. Look what happened: I caught a cold!

It’s my fault. No one sneezed in my face. I may have done a poor job washing produce or more likely rubbed my nose or an eye after shopping.

Did you see the movie Contagion and what’s-her-name saying people touch their face thousands of times a day? That was movie talk. I don’t know where it came from, but 16 touches an hour is often repeated, which would be 384 times a day if people stayed awake touching. An NIH study observed people in public places and counted only 3.6 times an hour. Maybe people touch more in private.

Anyway, back to the conference paper.

Virus Spread

The study was presented at the American Society for Microbiology’s 54th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) in Washington DC.

For their tests, the researchers applied a tracer virus (bacteriophage MS2), which is harmless to humans, to 1 or 2 frequently touched surfaces at the beginning of the day in office buildings, hotels and a health care facility. After 2 to 8 hours, they sampled 60 to 100 surfaces that could carry the virus (e.g., light switches, door knobs, phones). Ready? Within 2 to 4 hours, 40% to 60% of the surfaces were contaminated with the virus.

Get this. In an office building, which housed 80 employees, they applied the virus to a push-plate door at the entrance. Within two hours, the virus had contaminated the break room--coffee pot, microwave, refrigerator door handle--and then spread to restrooms, offices and cubicles, reaching phones, desks and computers. By four hours, the virus was on over half of the commonly touched surfaces and on the hands of about half of the employees.

Wrap Up

You’re not going to panic, right? Those microscopic overachievers don’t do well on every surface and they don’t live forever. Even if you invite them in as I probably did, they may not make you sick and you can wash them away. Soap and water are preferred but hand sanitizers are your next best defense.

So, I won’t stop shaking people’s hands, though I know it transfers 10 to 20 times more bacteria than fist bumps. I’ll just continue to wash and do my best to avoid rubbing an eye or my itchy nose. Stay well and thanks for stopping by.


Press release and articles on study on Time and Wall Street Journal websites:

How many times people touch their face:

Berkley Wellness articles on handwashing and soap and water versus hand sanitizers:

1 comment:

  1. i was interested in the safety and effectiveness of Hand sanitizer thanks for the advice