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February 4, 2016

Change Your Behavior and Avoid Getting Sick at Work

The secret to avoiding the spread of sickness at work is best understood at the microscopic level. Germs are lurking everywhere.

“The funny thing about viruses,” said Dr. Adam Olson,MD, a family physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy, “is that they can’t survive and reproduce on their own. They need a host, like a warm human, to do their damage. It’s amazing how they can take down an otherwise healthy person by hijacking his or her own cells and causing havoc.” On the other hand, bacteria do survive independently and can also invade the human body and cause illness. “Germs” is a generic term to describe both of these infectious agents.

The secret to avoiding the spread of sickness at work is best understood at the microscopic level. Germs are lurking everywhere. A recent study by environmental microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba from the University of Arizona found:

  • A person’s desktop is one of the germiest places in the office with 21,000 germs per square inch. (By comparison, office toilet seats have 49 germs per square inch.)
  • Most women’s handbags have fecal material on the bottom.
  • Office telephones had more than 25,000 germs per square inch.
  • Look out for germ clusters on break room faucet handles; microwave door handles; keyboards; refrigerator door handles; bubbler buttons; and vending machine buttons.

How are viruses spread?

They can float through the air or set up shop through the direct transfer of body fluids from one person to another, including sweat, nasal mucus, blood, and even semen and vaginal secretions. People who touch a surface on which body fluids have dried can catch certain types of viruses and bacteria that way. “Your computer mouse is especially dirty because you touch it so often. It makes total sense to wipe it down with an anti-viral or antibacterial cleaner every couple of days,” said Dr. Olson.

What can you do to protect yourself from these invisible invaders?

“Focus on changing your habits, not just your environment,” said Dr. Olson. “You’ll have much more control over your exposure to germs if you are thoughtful about your own behavior.” Without going overboard and wrapping yourself in a Tyvek suit, he suggests taking these simple steps to dramatically decrease your exposure to workplace germs:

  • Cover your mouth or nose when you sneeze or cough. “The simple act of coughing or sneezing can leave behind millions of germs that can live on a surface for up to three days,” said Dr. Olson.
  • Avoid contact with bodily fluids of others.
  • Think about your pretty face, but don’t keep touching it. Stop yourself when you realize what you’re doing. Office workers touch their hands to their faces an average of 18 times an hour, or once every three and a half minutes. Bacteria and viruses couldn’t ask for a better pathway from your keyboard, desktop or phone right to into our respiratory and digestive systems.
  • Dispose of unwanted food at your desk or in your drawers. It’s a breeding ground for bacteria.
  • Set up a workplace infection control program like you would a workplace safety program. Employers who focus on employee hand hygiene have been effective at reducing absenteeism on average by 40 percent.
  • Wash (or sanitize) your hands! “The correct way to wash your hands is to scrub them in warm soapy water for at least 15 seconds, rinse thoroughly, and dry with a clean towel,” said Dr. Olson. “Most people don’t do it that way—three seconds is simply not enough. I recommend that my patients use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, because it’s much quicker and more effective than half-hearted handwashing.”
  • Get immunized. Immunizations teach your body how to produce the right antibodies as soon as a particular virus starts reproducing. New vaccines must be produced constantly because viruses mutate over time and your body needs new instructions for fighting them.

Do you need a doctor who will help you fight the good fight against threats to your health?  Dr. Adam Olson, MD, of ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy is accepting new patients. Call his office directly at (920) 358-1900 to schedule an appointment or call ThedaCare On Call at (920) 830-6877 or go to and click on “Find a Doctor.”

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