Paranoia Time: A Single Doorknob Can Infect Up to 60 Percent of People in a Building in Just Two Hours

Bad news for germaphobes! A new study has found that a virus can spread through a building within two to four hours just by touching a single doorknob, Washington Post reported.

Scientists placed a tracer virus, similar to vomiting superbug norovirus, on one to two commonly touched surfaces in office buildings, conference rooms and a health care facility at the start of the day.

After two to four hours, 40 to 60 percent of workers were contaminated, with the results showing that the majority of workers and visitors could be infected within a matter of hours by simply touching a single doorknob or tabletop.  The virus could be detected on commonly touched objects like light switches, coffee pot handles, computers and phones.

Co-author of the study, Professor Charles Gerba said the findings show that the hand was quicker in spreading illness than the actual sneeze.  Interestingly, office break rooms, rather than bathrooms, were virus ‘hot spots’ and the first to be contaminated.

"We actually put a virus on a push plate in an office building of 80 people, had three entrances, and within four hours it ended up on over half the people's hands, and it ended up on over half the surfaces that people touched in that building," Gerba said.

The research, which was presented at the 54th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, indicates that viruses like diarrhea, the flu and the common cold were most commonly spread when people have the virus on their hands and then touch their faces, which occurs about every three to four minute.

The norovirus was selected as a tracer virus in the study because it is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the United States causing an estimated 20 million illnesses annually.

But before hitting the panic button just yet, there is some comforting news! Disinfectant wipes containing quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATS) given to workers during the study reduced the spread of the virus by 80 to 99 percent. 

In fact, results showed hand washing, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer use were all found to lessen the spread of the virus significantly.  Time to hit the basin and stock up on that Lysol!

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