HCA Midwest Health - March 11, 2022

Many of us are heading back to the office after the COVID-19 pandemic had us working from home. Here are ways to avoid germs as you head back to the office.

From the minute you wake up in the morning until you fall back into bed at night, you’ll likely encounter billions of germs throughout your day. Before you break out the hazmat suit, it’s important to understand that not all of the germs you’re exposed to on a daily basis are harmful. In fact, some microscopic bugs are actually helpful.

While it’s impossible to avoid germs entirely there are some beneficial bacteria and organisms that actually help us function better as humans. Our bodies do a pretty good job of fighting off the bad germs and we sometimes use the beneficial bacteria to help fight off those infections as well.

While exposure to germs throughout your day is inevitable, there are certain common pathogens that could make you sick. It’s a good idea to be mindful about these germs and try to avoid them as best you can. Some common culprits include cold and flu viruses, norovirus (the germ that causes “stomach flu”), as well as staph, E. coli and other types of bacteria.

Once your day begins, follow the below tips on how you can be proactive and help reduce your risk of infection.

Keep your hands clean

Some germs can survive on surfaces for hours. Respiratory viruses contained in droplets from coughs or sneezes can land on commonly-used objects, desks and countertops. Touching contaminated surfaces – like doorknobs, light switches, ATM machines, elevator buttons and other everyday items – then rubbing your eyes or touching your nose or mouth can lead to infection.

Viruses and bacteria can also spread through direct contact, including shaking hands, hugging or kissing.

Washing your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against respiratory and foodborne illnesses, as well as infections that cause vomiting and diarrhea.

If you don’t have access to soap and water, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a good alternative – if you choose the right one and use it frequently and properly.

Many gems including certain types of bacteria, such as strep, staph, E. coli and MRSA as well as the flu, RSV and some hepatitis viruses, are very susceptible to hand sanitizers. These products are not effective against all germs, including norovirus, and they aren’t a substitute for hand washing.

Choose a hand sanitizer than contains at least 60% alcohol, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Before applying the liquid or gel, remove as much dirt or debris from your hands as possible. Read the product label for instructions and apply as much as directed to ensure its effectiveness. Then, rub the sanitizer over all surfaces of your hands until they are dry.

Be sure that your hands are clean before eating or touching your eyes, mouth or nose, after using the bathroom and while working in the kitchen.

Keep your distance

Someone with the flu can spread the virus to others who are standing up to 6 feet away. Other viruses that cause the common cold, measles and pertussis (whooping cough) can also spread through the air via droplets from the coughs and sneezes of infected people. If you inhale these contaminated droplets, you could also become infected. Play it safe and keep some distance between you and anyone who is or appears to be sick.

Don’t share your stuff (or borrow from others)

You may be more mindful about germs in restrooms and public places but become relatively lax when you’re around friends and co-workers. Sharing or exchanging personal items, such as towels, razors, lipstick and water bottles, can spread infection. Don’t use someone else’s utensils or drink from another person’s glass.

Disinfect common surfaces routinely

Similarly, it’s important to be vigilant about germs at home, routinely cleaning your bathroom and kitchen countertops. But you could also protect yourself from infection by disinfecting other objects and surfaces you come into contact with throughout your day.

That includes cell phones, doorknobs, countertops and faucet handles. If you work in an office, it’s a good idea to clean your keyboard, desktop and other surfaces you touch on a regular basis. Keep your work area stocked with tissues, soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer and antiseptic wipes.

Be cautious about buffets and communal food trays

Despite calls for people to wash their hands often, some may simply forget. So, you may be rolling the dice if you dive into a communal candy dish or cookie platter that lacks a clean serving utensil.

If you’re eating out at a buffet or salad bar, make sure the foods that should be cold are chilled and the hot foods are steaming, which could help you avoid food-borne illnesses. It’s also wise to avoid eating perishable foods that have been sitting out at work or a party for more than two hours without refrigeration.

Boost your immune system and vaccinate

Aside from doing what you can to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong, such as getting quality sleep, following a healthy diet and exercising regularly, the most important way to avoid many risky infections, including coronavirus, measles, flu, pertussis, hepatitis and varicella (chicken pox) is to be fully vaccinated against them.

When an unexpected, severe injury or illness occurs, you need high-quality care fast. With 11 emergency rooms (ERs) in our network, HCA Midwest Health is here for you when an emergency situation arises. Our hospital and freestanding ERs provide 24/7 emergency care to patients of all ages with locations throughout Kansas City and its surrounding communities. Learn more at our emergency care page.