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Study Tracks How Fast Viruses Spread in Buildings

Update Date: Sep 10, 2014 11:00 AM EDT

Outbreaks can become a huge problem for people within a community. Even if the virus is not deadly, an outbreak can negatively affect work productivity. In a new study, researchers tracked how fast a virus can spread throughout office buildings, hotels and health care centers.

For this study, the researchers headed by Charles Gerba from the University of Arizona, Tucson used bacteriophage MS-2, which is very similar to the human norovirus in shape, size and resistance to common disinfectants. Norovirus causes acute gastroenteritis and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it can lead to 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and kill 570 to 800 patients per year.

At the beginning of the day, the team placed bacteriophage MS-2 on the doorknob and the tabletop, which are two places where people come into contact with frequently. Throughout the day, at various time points, the team analyzed 60 to 100 different surfaces, such as light switches, countertops, push buttons, sink tap handles, phones and computer equipment.

The team found that within two to four hours, roughly 40 to 60 percent of these surfaces were contaminated with bacteriophage MS-2. The researchers then conducted part two of their experiment, which involved an intervention phase. During this phase, the participants were given QUATS disinfectant containing wipes and taught how to use them. In this part of the study, the researchers found that the number of surfaces that were contaminated fell by 80 percent or more. The concentration of the virus on these surfaces fell by 99 percent.

"Using disinfecting wipes containing quaternary ammonium compounds (QUATS) registered by EPA as effective against viruses like norovirus and flu, along with hand hygiene, reduced virus spread by 80 to 99 percent," Gerba stated according to the press release. "The results shown that viral contamination of fomites in facilities occurs quickly, and that a simple intervention can greatly help to reduce exposure to viruses."

The study's findings were presented at the 54th Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC).

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