Germs, the office and you.

It’s that time of the year again, flu season. Time to stock up on hand sanitizer, Kleenex, Lysol, vitamin C and avoid any coughing or sneezing coworkers like the plague. Having just overcome a mild malady himself, this writer feels an obligation to cover this topic and hopefully in doing so can prevent more casualties in the yearly war on sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, fever… you get the picture. Since the 1982-83 flu season the most active months for the illness have been recorded by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the data shows that the peak months are February (14 seasons) and December (6 seasons) followed by January and March (5 seasons each) meaning we’re about to be in the thick of it folks, and many of us are wondering how we can avoid contracting and spreading the loathsome bug without confining ourselves to a plastic bubble until next summer. Now I’m not here to argue that the idea of sealing yourself in a germ-free, human-sized hamster ball isn’t pretty cool (because it is), but most of us can’t take time out of our busy schedules and widen all the doorways in our homes to accommodate such flights of fancy (also, could you imagine trying to get one of those things on the bus?). Luckily there are much less extreme and much more practical ways to stay healthy this winter and spring which we shall discuss.

Now, everyone knows that a flu vaccine is an important first line of defense but as office workers many of us are exposed to the virus on several fronts during the peak of flu season and extra care must be taken to avoid infection. One weapon everybody should have in their arsenal against the flu is information, knowing how the virus behaves and survives can help you limit your exposure and lower your chances of infection. The virus’ primary method of spreading is through droplets which are expelled when those that are already infected with the germ cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can spread up to six feet away and land in (try not to vomit) other peoples’ mouths and noses or onto work surfaces, desks, food and even float suspended in the air to be inhaled into the lungs. Alright, I know this is a revolting thought but remember that bacteria are literally everywhere, including all over you…. all the time, many are actually beneficial and our immune system keeps the majority of the bad ones at bay. Unfortunately, we are not talking about a beneficial bacterium, the flu sucks. It is especially crafty and able to spread with surprising speed. In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona, a bacteriophage called MS-2 which is harmless to humans but has similar properties to common cold and stomach flu viruses was used to contaminate the door of an 80-person office building and within 4 hours the virus was found on the hands of about 50% of the people in the building and 40-60% of the tested surfaces. This means that if someone carrying the flu were to be walking from their car to the front door of your office and that person happened to sneeze into their hands the entire office could be infected by the end of the day. This is of course a worst case scenario but it gives you an idea of how quickly the flu can spread in an office setting. Keyboards are particularly likely to carry viruses that may be circulating around your work environment, they’re kind of like a disgusting record of everything you’ve touched and are full of cracks and crevices perfect for the accumulation of viruses, skin cells and anything else that falls off of those hard workin’ hands. Regular cleaning of your keyboard and workstation is an effective way of reducing exposure and making it through the flu season unscathed, which is one of the key reasons why Skutchi Designs introduced their all laminate line of cubicles and workstations this past year. All panels, work surfaces and pedestals are washable and can withstand regular, intense cleaning and disinfection. This gives them a major advantage in call centers, medical facilities, cleanrooms and any environment with high occupancy or traffic levels and those with strict sanitation codes. Face masks are another effective method of prevention as they not only stop airborne viruses from being inhaled but also block the wearers face from being touched with a possibly contaminated hand. This may not seem relevant but researchers have found that the average adult touches their face approximately every 10-15 minutes (the number is much higher for children) making it a veritable expressway for germs to enter the body via the nose/mouth.

I realize this all may seem overwhelming, but like I said it’s not time to run for the doomsday vault and bubble suit yet. Here is a short list of easy preventive steps posted on the CDC website that you can take every day to stop the spread of germs.

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

For easy to clean and durable laminate/medical cubicles and workstations in a nearly unlimited number of styles and finishes visit or call 1-888-993-3757 and speak to a team member who can help you take advantage of in-house design, space planning, project management and installation services.

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