Viruses can spread throughout offices and hotels quickly after initial contamination

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A new study has revealed that a virus is able to spread around an entire building within two hours of it coming into contact with a single surface.

A team based at the University of Arizona in Tucson discovered that when a virus, such as the norovirus, contaminates one elevator button or doorknob, it can rapidly spread through hospitals, hotels or office buildings.

The team, which was led by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist, made use of bacteriophage MS-2 as a surrogate for the human norovirus because it has a similar size, shape and resistance to disinfectants.

They placed the virus on a commonly used surface, such as a table or a doorknob, at the start of a day in a conference room, office buildings, and in a health care facility based in Arizona.

They tested surfaces that would usually carry infectious organisms, such as table tops, bed rails, light switches, coffee pot handles, doorknobs, countertops, sink tap handles, computer equipment and telephones for traces of the at different periods between two and eight hours after placement.

The team discovered that up to 60% of the surfaces in the sample had been contaminated with the virus within a period of two to four hours.

Mr Gerba said there is an extremely simple solution to combat this spread. He said the use of disinfecting wipes, which have been registered as being effective against viruses like flu and norovirus, as well as hand hygiene, could reduce the spread of the virus by 80 to 99%.

The conclusion drawn by Mr Gerba is that the results indicate that surface viral contamination in different facilities occurs quite rapidly, but a simple intervention can help to reduce exposure to the viruses.

Image Credit: Paul Downey

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