The Hand is Quicker Than the Sneeze

By Kim Smiley

A new study, simply titled “How Quickly Viruses Can Contaminate Buildings and How to Stop Them”, found that a single source of contamination can spread to 40 to 60 percent of people and commonly touched objects within 2 to 4 hours.  As stated by Charles Gerba, a researcher at University of Arizona who worked on the study, “what we really learned was the hand is quicker than the sneeze in the spread of disease.”

To study the spread of viruses within a building, researchers contaminated a variety of surfaces in several different buildings with a benign virus that lives and multiplies within bacteria to use as a tracer.  The particular virus used was bacteriophage MS-2, which is similar to noroviruses which are a common cause of the stomach flu.

After some time had passed, researchers sampled surfaces that can harbor infectious organisms, such a light switches and faucet handles, to see how far the planted virus had spread. What they found was that the virus had spread to a majority of commonly touched surfaces after just two to four hours.  They also found that the bathroom wasn’t the worst offender; the break room was the most contaminated location.  (Just think how many people touch the coffee pot handle!)

The study also included an intervention phase where cleaning personal and employees were provided with quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATS) disinfectant containing wipes and instructed on proper use (at least once daily). After the use of the wipes, researchers retested the surfaces and found that the number of places where the virus was detected was reduced by 80% and the concentration of the virus was drastically reduced.

The recommended solutions that can be used to limit the spread of disease are relatively cheap and easy.  Washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer is still the best way to reduce the spread of infectious organisms.  This study also showed that the use of wipes containing QUATS just once a day can prevent the spread of illness.  For most circumstances, neither of these practices should be cost nor time prohibitive.

This study didn’t exactly reach shocking conclusions –  all of us know we should be washing our hands after using the bathroom and before preparing food or eating – but it’s still a good reminder.  Flu and cold season is coming soon and some simple precautions can keep everybody healthier.

To view the Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, of the results of this study – click on “Download PDF” above.