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Published May 30, 2012, 11:30 PM

Hot Topics: It might not just be rumors that spread in office breakroom

Your co-workers may seem friendly but, if a study released last week is any indication, they could be aircraft carriers for germs.

By: Source: “Vitals” blog on MSNBC.com, INFORUM

Your co-workers may seem friendly but, if a study released last week is any indication, they could be aircraft carriers for germs.

According to University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba, who researches the environmental presence of infectious bacteria and viruses, employees in offices arrive in the morning, “put their stuff on their desks” where, he says, the germ payload is often more than you’d find on the typical toilet seat, “and then go to break rooms to get coffee. The two things you spread in a break room are office gossip and germs.”

Gerba consulted on the new study, conducted by a division of the Kimberly-Clark Corporation (which manufactures and sells cleaning and disinfectant supplies to businesses). For the study, researchers collected nearly 5,000 swabs from office buildings containing almost 3,000 employees over the course of two years to measure traces of possible contamination on office surfaces.

The study, which focused on office break rooms, found that 75 percent of break room faucet handles displayed a high degree of contamination as did nearly half of microwave oven handles, and a quarter of refrigerator door handles.

“The break room is really the center of germ transfer in the office rather than the individual cubicle,” said Gerba. “Everything is shared in the break room.”

For example, he pointed out, many people rinse their coffee cups and push a sponge around the inside. Those sponges can be loaded with E. coli, “so you’re really wiping your mug with E. coli,” he said.

The second big break room habit that spreads germs is greeting co-workers. “Actually,” Gerba, explained, from a pathogen-transfer perspective, “you’d be better off kissing each other than shaking hands” because people cough or sneeze into their hands and transfer the germs when shaking.

What SheSays: You can’t do much about your co-workers spreading germs, but you can be proactive by taking the time to clean up after yourself and decontaminating your work space.

Would your office break room hold up to this study’s results? Tell us what you think at shesays@forumcomm.com

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