Alarming Ways the Deadly Flu Virus Is Spread at Work

With the 2018 flu season killing over 50 children and causing a record number of hospitalizations, health care experts are recommending important preventative measures. These include washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face, especially when you’re surrounded many other people.

While the flu is mostly spread in public places, one of the most common spots is at work, where many of us spend most of our days. Healthcare experts instruct anyone with the flu to stay home until 24 hours after the fever is gone without taking medicine. This will go a long way to help keep others from getting sick.

Nevertheless, the flu isn’t keeping some workers away. Whether it’s to be the company hero or for fear of losing pay, reports say that 80% of people go to work when they’re sick. Flu germs are often spread at work through coughing, sneezing, and touching contaminated objects. Here are 15 common ways you can get the flu at work and how to help protect yourself.

1. Touching break room sink faucet handles

Leaking kitchen faucet

That sink is probably filthy. | adavino/iStock/Getty Images

  • 75% are loaded with bacteria and viruses.

If you need to wash your hands, using the break room sink might not be the best choice if you want to avoid the flu or other illnesses. In fact, 75% of break room sink faucet handles were found to be flourishing with bacteria and viruses.

Who would have thought washing your hands could actually be counterproductive? Avoid the break room sink if possible, or make sure it gets a thorough disinfecting multiple times a day.

Next: Danger may lurk in the lunchroom.

2. Getting your lunch out of the fridge

Leftover containers of food in a refrigerator

Try to avoid using the office fridge. | joebelanger/iStock/Getty Images

  • 26% of fridge handles are at high risk for spreading illness.

Putting your lunch into the refrigerator (and taking it out) could be hazardous to your health. A study found that 26% of office fridge door handles are at high risk for spreading illnesses. A good disinfectant job multiple times a day could help alleviate this problem. If that’s not realistic, use a paper towel as a barrier between your hand and the door handle.

In general, the fridge door handle is one of the most germ-ridden places in all kitchens. Using an antibacterial wipe or antibacterial spray is the most effective way to clean it.

Next: Don’t get sick while heating up leftovers.

3. Operating the office microwave


While you’re at it, wipe down the microwave. | Source: iStock

  • 48% have high levels of bacteria and viruses.

After reading about the germs on the office fridge, you might not be surprised to see the office microwave door handle listed as another unsanitary spot. In fact, it’s even dirtier than that fridge door. Almost half (48%) of office microwave door handles are said to contain high levels of bacteria and viruses.

Just like with the fridge handle, the easiest way to sanitize a microwave door handle (and don’t forget the buttons!) would be with an antibacterial wipe or spray.

Next: Your caffeine fix could have unexpected consequences.

4. Handling the coffeepot

Mcdonald's coffee

You might just want to get your coffee to-go in the mornings. | Tim Boyle/Getty Images

  • 48% are in need of a good disinfecting.

You may need a morning pick-me-up, but get it at your own risk. One of the germiest places in the office is that coffee pot handle. When tested, the coffee pot handle proved home to high levels of bacteria.

“Tons of bacteria. This thing gets a lot of use by human hands,” said Dr. Mark Rasnake while holding up a coffee pot. Rasnake is an infectious diseases physician who commented on Becker’s Healthcare on bacteria content.

Chances are your office coffee pot handle isn’t getting disinfected as often as need be. If you must partake, be sure to wash your hands with antibacterial soap after touching it.

Next: The germiest thing in the office kitchen?

5. Using the kitchen sponge

sponge for cleaning

Sponges don’t get replaced enough. | BookyBuggy/iStock/Getty images

  • They carry respiratory and bloodborne pathogens.

Kitchen sponges harbor a ton of germs and often don’t get replaced nearly as often as necessary. Your risk for getting infected from touching a sponge is actually said to be quite low because most of the bacteria are harmless. However, one study found respiratory and bloodborne pathogens lurking on sponges.

You can rid your office kitchen sponge of flu germs by either running it through a full dishwasher cycle or microwaving it (while wet) on high for one minute.

Next: Think twice before you get the munchies.

6. Buying that afternoon snack

woman using a modern beverage vending machine

Vending machine buttons can be filthy. |

  • 21% of vending machine buttons have high levels and bacteria and viruses.

After you get your bag of cookies or chips from the vending machine, you probably should wash your hands thoroughly before you open the bag. That’s because 21% of vending machine buttons were found to have high levels of contamination.

The vending machine is a double whammy for germs because not only are people who may be sick touching the buttons but also anyone using them is handling cash. This could spread around additional germs coming off coins and dollar bills which could cause food-borne illnesses, skin infections, and more.

Next: Another snack might be hazardous to your health.

7. Eating out of the candy dish

Top close view of smores candy mixture

Think of all the hands that have touched that candy. |

  • Human waste bacteria have been found in office candy bowls.

Who needs the vending machine when there’s free candy right at the reception desk? As tempting as a handful of M&Ms or chocolate covered nuts sounds right around 2 p.m., step away from the candy dish. “I wouldn’t eat anything from a communal dish,” said Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University. “Just think of where people’s hands have been.”

Instead of putting your hands into this petri dish, keep your own personal snacks in your desk drawer to satisfy afternoon cravings.

Next: Something way dirtier than a toilet seat

8. Sharing your keyboard and mouse

Hands on Laptop keyboard high quality and high resolution studio shoot

Keyboards are usually filthy. | Getty Images

  • 20,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat

Roughly 27% of keyboards were found to contain high levels of germs, in a study by Kimberly-Clark Professional. In fact, one report claimed your keyboard is 20,000 times dirtier than a toilet seat. To keep from spreading germs around, avoid using anyone else’s keyboard and mouse in the office. Keep disinfecting wipes handy at your desk to wipe down your keyboard and mouse regularly.

Next: The dirtiest thing in the office

9. Sharing office phones

Closeup of male hand holding telephone receiver while dialing a telephone number to make a call using a black landline phone. With retro filter effect

Get in the habit of disinfecting your work phone. | Gajus/Getty Images

  • 51% could use a good disinfecting.

Another reason to invest in disinfecting wipes would be your desk phone. Like your keyboard, this item has been branded filthier than the toilet. In fact, the office phone is the single dirtiest part of the office, according to microbiology professor Charles Gerba. “Apparently, nobody ever cleans or disinfects an office phone,” he said.

Next: One culprit has many buttons.

10. Using the copy machine

A young Asian girl working on copying machine

Who knew the copy machine could be so dirty? |

  • Just one touch of a button can leave behind countless germs.

Almost everyone uses the copy machine on any given day, meaning lots of fingers — and germs — have touched it. And places like copy machine buttons can become infected with flu germs pretty easily even if just one single person in the office has the illness.

If you need to use the copy machine, your best bet is to wipe the buttons down with a disinfecting wipe beforehand. Also, remember not to touch your face after using the copy machine.

Next: Can the flu be spread just by breathing?

11. Being around a coughing person

Ill man coughing

Give your coughing coworkers plenty of space. |

  • Coughs can spread the flu up to 6 feet.

Much of the germs in the office are derived from nasal and oral cavities. Through coughs and sneezes, people with the flu can spread it to others six feet away. If sneezes and coughs aren’t covered with a tissue or sleeve, the germs can easily be spread through the air.

One recent study found that flu germs actually can be spread through the breath of those infected — without any actual sneezing or coughing.

“We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing,” said Dr. Donald Milton, a professor of environmental health and lead researcher in the study.

Next: One of the easiest ways the flu is spread

12. Shaking hands

Handshake between two colleagues in office

Handshakes spread germs. | Saklakova/iStock/Getty Images

  • It’s one of the easiest ways the flu is spread.

What’s so dangerous about a simple handshake? Close contact is actually one of the easiest ways to spread the flu. Many people have the good sense to turn down a handshake or a hug when they are sick — and to explain why, so others don’t think of them as rude.

If you find you have shaken hands with a co-worker or business associate who is sick, avoid touching your face and wash your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds or more) as soon as you can.

Next: Don’t catch the flu while trying to prevent it.

13. Touching bathroom sink faucet handles

sink in restaurant

Use a paper towel on sink handles.| constantinopris/Getty Images

  • Don’t cancel out the most effective flu preventer.

Washing your hands is said to be the single best thing you can do to prevent the flu. However, flu germs can be present on those bathroom sink handles. Unless you’re lucky enough to have touchless sinks in your work bathroom, your sink probably has metal handles. The flu virus can only survive on metal for a few hours. When touching the handles, however, keep from catching germs by using a paper towel rather than your bare hand.

Next: Another place where germs lurk in the restroom

14. Opening the bathroom door

Empty Public Bathroom Stalls

No surprise here: Bathroom doors are covered with germs. | Joe_Potato/iStock/Getty Images

  • Contagious viruses can live there for 3 hours

You’ve just washed your hands thoroughly and are leaving the office restroom. Why cancel that out by touching the door handle? If you need to pull a handle to open the door, use a paper towel and throw it away after you’ve left the restroom. “You don’t know how many people didn’t wash their hands and left germs on the door,” said Alan Kohll, founder and CEO of TotalWellness.

Next: Could what floor you’re on affect you?

15. Taking the elevator

Business woman hand holding elevator door

Elevators are covered in germs. | CentralITAlliance/Getty Images

  • Bacteria colonization was prevalent on 61% of elevator buttons.

One study of hospital elevator buttons found the prevalence of bacteria colonization at 61%. You may not even think twice about pressing “up” in the morning or “down” at night; however, once you’ve touched a contaminated button, all you need to do is touch your mouth, nose, or eyes and you could get sick.

As silly as it may look, you could try using your elbow instead to press the buttons. Or better yet, maybe someone else will press the button before you have to bother figuring it out.

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