Tag Archives: Study

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.

Study Finds Bacteria Can Live on Airplane Surfaces for Days

By Kim Smiley

With many bodies packed into a tight space and seemingly stale air, airplanes tend to bring out the inner germaphobe in many of us.  And the latest research, especially if you just read the headlines, isn’t going to help. Researchers at the University of Auburn found that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (commonly known as MRSA) and E. Coli can live for days on airplane surfaces.

The experiment involved sterilizing six surfaces found on airplanes (seat pocket, arm rest, leather seat, window shade, tray table and toilet handle), introducing MRSA and E. Coli bacteria to them and then measuring how long the bacteria survived.  Typical conditions inside an airplane were stimulated and the bacteria were suspended in three different solutions (saline, simulated seat and simulated saliva) to replicated the environment inside an airplane. The survival times ranged from 8 to 2 days.  This is a little scary, especially since an estimated 1-2 percent of people in the US may be carriers of these dangerous bacteria.

The good news, and there is good news, is that the surfaces where the bacteria lived the longest, the more porous surfaces such as the seat pocket, are the least likely surfaces to actually spread the contamination.  The study also didn’t look into how much bacteria remained after the typical cleaning  by airlines between flights, but the researchers plan to look into this in the future.

So what can you do to reduce the risk of illness if you have plans to travel on an airplane soon?  The simplest thing you can do to protect yourself is to frequently wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer as well as avoid touching your face as much as possible.  If you feel the need to take additional precautions, you can clean the areas around your seat with a disinfectant when you board the plane.

Airline cleaning procedures can also significantly impact the spread of illness.  So the question is, how much do you trust the thoroughness of the cleaning performed by the airline?  I think I may invest in a travel-size hand sanitizer before my next flight.

To see a high level Cause Map of this issue, click on “Download PDF” above.

Amish have few allergies

By Kim Smiley

A new study has found that Amish children living in Indiana have far fewer allergies than the general population and even significantly fewer allergies than other children living on farms.  As high as 50 percent of the general population has evidence of allergic sensitivity when tested and only seven percent of the Amish children had allergic sensitivity.  The study also looked at Swiss children living on farms and found that they had half the allergic sensitivity of the general population, but still more than Amish children.

Why is this finding significant?  Scientists hope that studying the Amish will help them understand what factors are causing the large increase in allergies in the general population in Western Countries over the past few decades.

This issue can be built into a Cause Map, an intuitive, visual root cause analysis, to help illustrate the-cause-and-effect relationship between the factors involved.  As more research is done and more information on this issue becomes available, it can easily be added to the Cause Map.  In this example, researchers aren’t sure why the Amish have such low levels of allergic sensitivities, but there are a few factors that are likely involved.  These factors could be documented on the Cause Map, but a question mark would be added to note that more information is needed to verify the accuracy of the cause and to ensure proper placement on the Cause Map.  To view a high level Cause Map of this issue, click “Download PDF” above.

One fact worth adding to the Cause Map is that Amish are exposed to a wide variety of animals and the germs that go along with them from a young age. Many Amish live on farms and nearly all own horses for transportation.  Additionally, Amish children help care for the animals from a young age.  Pregnant Amish women are also typically around large animals and the prenatal exposure may play a role.  Many Amish also consume unpasteurized milk and the impact of this on development of allergies is an ongoing debate.

In addition to environmental factors, some researchers also think that genetic plays a role in allergies so it is also worth noting that the Amish are relatively isolated genetically with limited mixing with the general population.

Understanding the factors that contribute to the low allergy rates of Amish children would hopefully help scientists both understand why allergies in the general population are increasing so dramatically and the best actions to take to treat them, maybe even before they develop.