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Germ awareness critical as temperatures drop, viruses increase

PHOENIX — While we ring our hands over Ebola in west Africa and enterovirus in the U.S., germ experts said the chances of getting seriously sick from a virus are more likely to come from the coffee maker at work than from a Third World nation.

In a recent study, University of Arizona germ scientist Charles Gerba and his team found flu viruses move far quicker through a home or office than originally thought.

After swabbing the hands of an individual with a flu-like-virus, Gerba cut the germ carrier loose in a typical office and learned something startling.

“Within about four hours, 50 percent of the people in that building, and half the surfaces that they touch, have the virus on it,” he said.

Once the viruses land, Gerba found they stick around longer than you might think.

“Most cold and flu viruses will survive anywhere from a few hours to three days on surfaces,” he went on. “Viruses that cause diarrhea can survive for 30 days.”

As virulent as they are, Gerba said most viruses are killed with chlorine-based wipes and consistent hand washing.

When a test group split up carrying the flu-like virus, one half washed their hands and used hand sanitizers and wipes while the other half did not.

“We found that we can reduce the amount of the viruses on surfaces by 99 percent,” Gerba said. “It showed to us only about half the people have to practice good hand hygiene to reduce the spread of viruses.”

As the weather cools and more people travel, Gerba said viruses will naturally follow.

His best advice for staying well is to follow what is already known: wash hands, wipe down shared areas with disinfectant wipes and use hand sanitizers often.

At home, take off shoes, he suggested, to avoid tracking viruses around the house.