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Killer Flu is Hiding in Your Dirty Desks

Posted: 21st November 2016



It’s flu season and flu can be a killer.

Unbelievably, the 1918 flu pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide, and flu still contributes to tens of thousands of deaths each year. Estimates suggest that flu recently resulted in up to 49,000 deaths in the US (CDC).

Colds, flu and other illnesses also contribute to many lost working days each year in the UK; in fact, up to 131 million lost days at work. Sick days are estimated to cost the UK economy £29 billion per year.

How do you limit the impact of flu?

Clearly, you can encourage employees to have flu vaccinations and too few people have flu jabs. Less well known is that dirty desks are a ‘key contributor’ to the spread of flu and millions of lost working days.

Work stations are war zones

Two in three of us eat lunch at our desk and we rarely clean up afterwards. Twenty percent of us never clean our computer mouse, and, apparently, half of office workers don’t wash their hands after going to the toilet!

Hiding in keyboards, secreted in mice and breeding in phones lurk more than 10 million bacteria. Your keyboard is the worst offender with 7,500 organisms (source: Dettol infographic).

Believe it or not, the average work desk can be 400 times dirtier than the average toilet seat!

Hands are flu germ highways

80 per cent of common infections like the flu are transmitted by touch, with our hands acting like germ highways. Cold and flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours, and bacteria numbers increase by up to 31% per day on areas that aren’t regularly disinfected.

So, it’s time to clean up your work stations. Your desks, telephones, keyboards and computer mice need to be detoxed regularly.

A cough or sneeze into our hands means the germs start their journey through the office. Colleagues can pick up the viruses by touching the same door handles and surfaces. Those germs can then be transferred when people touch their eyes or mouths, resulting in colds, flu and norovirus.

Do you have a commercial cleaning company that’s keeping your work stations really clean? At Spotless we offer special seasonal IT and work station clean ups. We can also identify common touch points in your offices and create a checklist of these surfaces so that cleaning and disinfecting can be focused on them.

This helps reduce the spread of flu and other viruses and should result in fewer lost sick days, and a healthier, more productive workforce.

Flu can spread around your office in less than four hours

A study by researchers at the University of Arizona revealed that one door contaminated with an artificial virus spread to about half the hands of employees and surfaces in the office in just four hours. The virus had contaminated phones, desks and computers, not to mention kitchens and bathrooms.

About 80% of common infections are transmitted by touch, so, as the University of Arizona’s professor of microbiology, Charles Gerba, put it: “The hand is quicker than the sneeze.”

How to reduce the spread of flu in your office

  • Ask your professional cleaners to clean and disinfect your work stations regularly; ensure anything that is touched often, like (mobile) phones, mice, keyboards, and door handles are regularly cleaned.
  • In addition, make anti-bacterial wipes and sprays freely available to employees for cleaning bacteria and viruses off keyboards, mice and desktops. Provide telephone wipes.
  • Encourage employees to strengthen their immune systems, their first line of defence against the ‘flu virus; encourage employees to get enough sleep and fresh air, and to eat healthy food; provide free fresh fruit in your office.
  • Encourage frequent hand washing, particularly after meetings or after visiting high activity areas like kitchens, toilets, photocopying and meeting rooms. Also suggest proper hand drying, as many more bacteria are spread by wet hands.
  • Employees should wash their hands when arriving at work, particularly if they’ve travelled on public transport.
  • Avoid touching the face, especially the eyes, nose and mouth – the flu virus can survive 24 hours outside the body.
  • Use your own cup instead of cups for general use.
  • Stay home if you’re sick and avoid the disadvantages of ‘presenteeism’ (working unproductively while sick) and spreading germs.

You can see more information on Spotless Commercial Cleaning’s website at

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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