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Watch out – shared office workstations may harbour microbes

Employees at workplaces with shared workstations could find themselves hosting unwelcome guests. That’s because microbes can hop from person to person when office tools are shared. Health watchdogs advise wiping work surfaces to minimise the risk of chain infections.

Sormet näppiksellä.
The THL says regular workplace hygiene could make shared workstations safer -- and healthier -- for all. Image: Yle

Workplaces where employees share stations may be teeming with microbes making them the ideal places to pick up viruses, warned Carita Savolainen-Kopra, lead viral specialist with the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL.

“People come to work from many different kinds of environments and then come into contact with work surfaces. The worst items include your mouse, keyboard, phones and light switches. These aren’t cleaned daily, so they pose a risk,” she explained.

However, with a little consideration and due attention to workplace hygiene, employees can avoid the spread of disease, especially during the flu season. Workers should tame sneezes and coughing fits with tissue rather than trying to muffle them in their sleeves, since clothing often comes into contact with work surfaces. It’s also worthwhile to remember to disinfect or wash hands with soap and water after working on communal workstations.

“Phones and keyboards can be mechanically cleaned. Wiping them down should be sufficient,” Savolainen-Kopra advised.

Caution before and after infection

The experts caution that viruses can survive for long periods on many surfaces – the viruses responsible for many stomach bugs can often persist for up to a week.

“The viruses that cause respiratory tract infections can last several hours,” Savolainen-Kopra said.

According to the THL specialist the most problematic periods in terms of spreading disease are just before the onset of symptoms and during the so-called recovery period. The incubation period for a viral disease is usually around two days, and many viral diseases can spread during the infectious stage, even though the carrier is not exhibiting any symptoms of sickness.

“When the disease begins to set in and symptoms diminish, then the viral count declines,” the viral specialist explained.

Currently as many as 200 viruses behind respiratory tract infections are on the loose. When an individual becomes infected for the first time their general condition weakens, making it easier for another virus to strike. However, according to the THL specialist, it’s not necessary to stay at home for the slightest reason, even if it seems the fastest road to recovery.

“Simply by washing your hands you can keep the situation under control: so that you don’t spread your viruses in the workplace, and you don’t get any new infections either,” she counseled.

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