A Virus Spreads Through Two-Thirds Of Your Office In Hours, Science Says

LONDON - NOVEMBER 03: Production staff on the weekly fashion magazine, Grazia edit the magazine in a temporary office inside the Westfield shopping centre on November 3, 2008 in London. For one week Grazia magazine is being produced in the Westfield shopping centre and are offering shoppers free make-overs, fashion consultations and advice on pursuing a modeling career. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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Workaholics, I beg of you: When you start feeling queasy, just stay home. No one wants your clammy face and shaking hands on the desk beside them, and trust me, that assignment you've got to finish by tonight's deadline? It's not worth the surreptitious dry heaving. More importantly, a new study has found that it only takes a couple of hours before a virus spreads to 40 to 60 percent of an office — and that's referring to both people and objects. So for God's sake, step away from the elevator.

Actually, it's not just any virus that can spread like wildfire through your workplace. Specifically, the study looked at the norovirus, that nightmarish stomach bug that sends you to a hell of nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and intense diarrhea (sometimes, grossly, all at once). It's a pretty common virus, causing up to 21 million cases a year, 570 to 800 of which are deadly. And, according to researchers at the University of Arizona, within two hours, that bad boy could be all over most of your office. 

To get their results, what the researchers did was this: They took a virus called MS-2 which is almost exactly the same as the norovirus. Except that it doesn't actually make anyone sick. They used this nonharmful virus as a "tracer," beginning by putting it on a single doorknob in the building. Between two and three hours later, the virus was on 40 to 60 percent of the people (including visitors!) in there, and over all of the workplace surfaces (like light switches, elevator buttons, and printers). The first place the virus hit? The coffee break room. Of course.

Thankfully, it's not all bad news. The researchers also checked how the spread of the notoriously disinfectant-resistant bug could be halted, and they found something pretty incredible — all it took was the use of special wipes, ones containing quaternary ammonium compounds (basically, the only kind certified to kill the virus). Teaching office workers to use these wipes effectively (and yes, it's worrying that they weren't aware of how to do this before) reduced the spread by a whopping 80 to 99 percent

“'Make it convenient’ is what we really went for,” lead researcher Dr.Charles Gerba told the Huffington Post. “I’m sure a lot of people who were involved or said they would use a hand sanitizer or disinfectant also participated because it was there and made available to them.”

What this says to me (apart from the fact that office workers are shockingly lazy)? It's still probably safer to stay home if you're sick. After all, the most insidious spreaders of the norovirus are food-service workers who go into work even when ill. In fact, two-thirds of the reported cases between 2009 and 2012 can be blamed on restaurants and the one in five workers who are too scared of getting fired to take a sick day. 

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