London, Feb 3 (IANS) A sick person who reports for duty can contaminate more than half of his office's common surfaces with virus or the bugs by lunchtime, says a study.
Some of the bacterial hot spots include phones, desktops, tabletops, doorknobs, photocopiers, elevator buttons, the office fridge and tea vending machines, according to University of Arizona researchers in the US.
However, the study also revealed that simple acts such as hand washing and the use of hand sanitiser or wipes, can drastically reduce employees' risk of infection.
The study involved 80 people at an actual office, some of whom received droplets on their hands at the start of a normal work day.
While most of those droplets were plain water, one person unknowingly received a droplet containing artificial viruses mimicking the cold, the flu and a stomach bug, the Daily Mail reports.
Employees were instructed to go about their day as usual. After about four hours, researchers sampled commonly touched surfaces in the office, as well as employees' hands, and found that more than 50 percent of surfaces and employees were infected with at least one of the viruses.
"We were actually quite surprised by how effectively everything spread," said Kelly Reynolds, associate professor of public health at the Arizona University, who co-authored the study.
"I didn't expect to find it as much as I did. And that was in an office environment where people work primarily in isolated spaces.
"There weren't a lot of people roaming around," Reynolds said.
"They basically go in their offices, sit in their chairs and are on their computers. They may go to the bathroom, and they have a common kitchen area they share and a photocopier, but that's about it."
Researchers swabbed surfaces and hands again at the end of the work day.
By then, the cold and flu viruses, known for their short survival time, had dissipated, but the stomach virus had continued to spread, infecting up to 70 percent of surfaces tested.
"We really felt that the hand was quicker than the sneeze in the spread of disease," said Charles Gerba, co-principal investigator on the study.