‘Tis the season for the flu, not to mention the common cold, the annual norovirus outbreak, and some kind of respiratory bug that has people laid up for over a week. Whole departments are getting decimated for weeks at a time, and you may be wondering: how can I avoid getting sick at work?
Office spaces can be Petri dishes for the cultivation of viruses. Open-plan spaces, in particular, make it easy for germs to spread. A 2014 MIT study found that coughs and sneezes create a “multiphase, turbulent buoyant cloud,” which allows germ-laden droplets to travel up to 200 times farther than was previously thought. When someone in a cubicle sneezes, a coworker in a cubicle 30 feet away may be the recipient of those germs.
Even in more traditional office spaces, any surface that gets touched frequently is probably a hotbed of germs. Door handles, copier controls, elevator buttons: these surfaces get touched thousands of times a day, often by people harboring viruses or bacteria. Microbiologist Chuck Gerba found cold and flu viruses on about one-third of office surfaces, with the germiest object being the phone.
Despite all the germs that are probably floating around your office, there’s no need to invest in a Haz-Mat suit. Some simple precautions can help significantly reduce your likelihood of getting sick.
- Viruses and bacteria are transmitted through your mouth, eyes, and nose, usually from your hands, once you’ve touched a germy surface. If you can avoid touching your face at all, you’ll keep the germs out of your system.
- It may be hard to keep from scratching your nose or rubbing your eyes. That’s why it’s crucial to wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water. If soap and water are not available, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol can quickly reduce the number of microbes on the skin. Note, however, that you should avoid antibacterial soap. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in 2016 that antibacterial agents like triclosan show no evidence of preventing illness, and they may even contribute to antibiotic resistance.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces at least once a day with a bleach- or alcohol-based product.
- Take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, and get the most nutrition from your food.
- Stay home! If you’re starting to feel unwell or even just run-down, take a day off! If you can avoid getting sick, you’ll be more productive in the long run.