Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"When you touch surfaces a day later, the virus may still be there."

Viral infections can remain viable on hard surfaces up to forty-eight hours. How many times a day do you come in contact with hard surfaces that have been shared with others? Doorknobs, light switches, TV controls, chair arms and backs, magazines and papers...the list is uncomfortabley long.

Check this out.

When sick hotel guests leave their rooms, they frequently leave something important behind: the virus that gave them their colds.

During an overnight hotel stay, people with colds left viruses on telephones, light switches, and television remotes, researchers said yesterday at an infectious disease conference in San Francisco.

Infectious disease specialists caution people to wash their hands and avoid touching their noses and faces to avoid catching colds that infect about 60 million people in the United States annually. The study, sponsored by Reckitt Benckiser PLC, maker of the Lysol cleaner, suggests that infectious cold germs may survive longer in the environment than has been thought.

"When you touch surfaces a day later, the virus may still be there," said Owen Hendley, a pediatrician at University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville who led the research.Hendley and his team had 15 patients infected with rhinoviruses, a common cold germ, spend the night in a hotel. Each volunteer spent at least five hours awake in the room before sleeping, and then another two hours awake before leaving the following morning. The Virginia researchers then swabbed objects and surfaces that had been touched during the stay. About 35 percent of those objects and surfaces had cold viruses.

Some of the patients appeared to be more efficient spreaders of the virus, Hendley said, contaminating as many as eight of 10 surfaces they touched.

The findings don't mean that the virus was capable of causing a cold after sitting overnight on a light switch, said Stuart Levy, a Tufts University School of Medicine infectious disease specialist, in an interview at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, where the study was presented.

"It's an interesting study," he said. "But they haven't shown infectivity. I'm not going to go around opening doors with my elbows."

[H/T H5N1 blog which has a couple of inteeresting comments.]

This is not news, by the way. The facts have been known for years. I recall reading a report several years ago about researchers investigating the efficacy of germicidal tissues, impregnated with anri-bacterial substances that would kill germs when used to wipe noses or catch sneezes from people with active colds. In order to do research they first had to figure the best way for volunteers to first catch a cold. They found out that the most efficient way to make their subjects all catch the cold was to have them play cards. Passing around the playing cards was the most efficient way for a group of people to all catch cold if one of them was already infected.

As that last quote indicates, the presence of germs is not the same as "infectivity," but I see no need to be careless as the cold/flu season approaches. Those of us in the food business have a heavier responsibility than others to protect ourselves and those we feed from getting sick.

Boring as it may be, frequent handwashing continues to be the first and best line of defense.

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