Take a sick day and don't use the breakroom: how to avoid the flu, norovirus at the office

Take a sick day and don't use the breakroom: how to avoid the flu, norovirus at the office (Photo: William Brawley, All Creative Commons)

TRI-CITIES, Wash. - If there's one thing that's certain as it gets colder, it’s that no one wants to get sick. However, now’s the time the cold and flu are spreading through your workplace and schools.

It’s the time of year people start worrying about catching the flu, norovirus and all kinds of winter bugs that are raging through offices and schools.

Action News met with a nurse to find out what the dirtiest places are in your office and how to avoid picking up germs this season.

"We share a lot in the workplace, not just air space, but all the heavy touch surfaces," said Heather Hill, Public Health Nurse. “We share everything from keyboards, door handles, to company cars."

Hill said these commonly shared items at work are the dirtiest things in the office and an easy way to spread germs.

The same goes for the coffee machine, copiers and printers, and even the bathroom soap dispenser.

In a new study by Kimberly-Clark Professional, researchers swabbed nearly 5,000 surfaces in office buildings housing about 3,000 employees.

An ATP reading of over 100 suggests a surface could use a scrub-down. Readings of 300 or higher are considered officially dirty and at high risk for spreading illness. (Note the meter doesn’t directly measure germs, but the dirty surfaces they cling to.)

The dirtiest office surfaces found to have ATP counts of 300 or higher were as follows:

  • 75% of break room sink faucet handles
  • 48% of microwave door handles
  • 27% of keyboards
  • 26% of refrigerator door handles
  • 23% of water fountain buttons
  • 21% of vending machine buttons

Hill said to be sure to regularly disinfect those dirty surfaces and to use cleaning products properly.

“It’s important to read your product labels to find out what organisms it kills and make sure you're reading the back that says how long to keep the surface wet," Hill said.

She said some cleaners require 30 seconds to stay wet to kill germs, while other products take up to four minutes.

"You might be going to all of that effort of spraying and cleaning and actually killing nothing," Hill explained.

As a nurse, Hill can't stress enough to wash your hands often.

"Most of the time cold and flu germs are on our hands,” Hill said. “We pick it up off of surfaces and we introduce it into our own body through our dirty hands and fingers."

If you don’t have access to soap and water, she says hand sanitizer will do. Just know that hand sanitizers don’t kill all germs and organisms.

For example, hand sanitizers don’t work well against the norovirus, which causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Nearly 80 percent of employees surveyed by Staples Business Advantage admitted to coming to work sick, despite knowing the dangers.

"If you're sick, stay home," Hill urged.

Don't bring your germs to a place where you're inevitably going to spread them to your coworkers. Hill stresses not to wait to take a sick day.

If you haven't gotten your flu shot, Hill said it’s not too late.

"We're definitely seeing an increase in influenza locally," she explained.

By getting your flu shot, you reduce your chances of catching and spreading the virus with others. If you do catch the flu even though you received a shot, Hill said your symptoms will be reduced.

During cold and flu season, Hills said it’s important to take your health and the health of your coworkers seriously.

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