Healthy Living

Flu Virus Can Travel Up to 6 Feet, Infect Up to 90 Percent of People Just from Contaminated Surfaces

Catch a cold
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It is flu season! If you know someone who has the flu, it is probably in your best interest to stand back. Two recent studies have found that workers that come into the office can contaminate up to 90 percent of surfaces  - and that sick patients can hurl influenza up to 6 feet away with just a single cough or sneeze.

As anyone can attest, once one person in the office becomes sick, the virus spreads. Unfortunately, though workers coming into the office can cost $280 in lost productivity, so many employees do not have sick days and thus come in anyway, putting their coworkers at risk. According to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, just a single sick worker can spread germs on 70 percent of surfaces.

The study was conducted in an office on-campus with 80 participants. Researchers put water droplets on the hands of some workers at the start of a normal workday. One participant unknowingly received droplets containing artificial bugs that mimic the cold, flu and stomach viruses. The employees were instructed to continue their day as usual in their office, which was not particularly social and had few common areas, which included the kitchen, photocopy machine and perhaps the restroom.

After four hours, researchers sampled the office surfaces and employees' hands. In just half a work day, 50 percent of the surfaces and employees had been contaminated from touching items like tabletops, the coffee pot handle and telephones. By the end of the work day, the cold and flu viruses, known for their short lifespans, had died, but the stomach bugs had spread to 70 percent of tested surfaces. Even though the cold and flu viruses had died, however, researchers note that it takes very little contamination to make a person sick. The researchers estimate that the employees had a 40 to 90 percent chance of infection from at least one of the three viruses.

However, it is not just surfaces that can provide a health threat. A study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases examined 94 patients who had visited the hospital for flu-like symptoms. Researchers placed devices that would sample the air 1, 3 and 6 feet away from the patients. They found that, among the patients who had influenza, viruses were found in the samples at all three locations. Some patients - 19 percent - were also super-carriers, spreading 32 times more of the virus around than the others. Of course the findings hold importance for health workers, but also for anyone. They note that more research needs to be conducted into super-carriers to help curb disease spread.

There are things that you can do to minimize your risk of infection: first, to receive a flu shot. In the study conducted by the University of Arizona, employees were given free tissues, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. They were also instructed to wash their hands before eating and after meeting with large groups. With those interventions, the risk of infection fell to below 10 percent.

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