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February 2019

7 most common office germs (and how you catch them) [updated]

Written by Bakang Kganyago
Workplace Hygiene

Cross contamination is the process by which bacteria or other microorganisms travel from one place to another. It explains why - in a busy office environment - when one colleague falls ill from a virus, the likelihood of others falling ill in quick succession is fairly high.

In one of our previous blogs, we interviewed our technical expert Deon Lubbe, who explained that hands and surfaces are the two primary causes of cross contamination. This is due to germs travelling from surfaces to hands to mouths and vice-versa.

We also run the risk of spreading viruses from the office at home, as the viruses we pick up travel with us. All it takes is a “welcome home hug” from your little one or significant other to spread the virus to your family.

We take a look into the top germs that invade the workplace, how they are spread and what you can do about it.

What are the most prevalent germs in offices?

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Norovirus (also known as stomach flu)

The Norovirus causes gastroenteritis, which means that the stomach and the intestines become inflamed. The most common symptoms are diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting.

Staphylococcus aureus (known as Staph)

This type of bacteria can enter cuts, scrapes or areas where the skin is pierced when one comes into contact with contaminated surfaces. This can lead to skin infections. In more extreme cases, this can lead to abscesses, crusting on the skin, hot and swollen skin, as well as blood poisoning and pneumonia.

Influenza (also called “the flu”)

Influenza is an airborne respiratory virus which attacks the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms of the flu are coughing, blocked or runny nose, sore throat, lack of energy, fever, cold sweats, muscle pains and headaches. This is a highly contagious virus that is easily spread from person to person through coughing and/or sneezing.

Salmonella sp

Salmonella is a group of bacteria that causes food poisoning through undercooked or contaminated food and can lead to stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.

Escherichia  coli (E. coli)

This type of bacteria is spread through faecal matter and can lead to diarrhoea, and in severe cases; abdominal cramps and vomiting.


Rotavirus is an infection that causes diarrhoea. Rotavirus infection usually starts within two days of exposure to the virus. Initial symptoms are fever and vomiting, followed by three to seven days of watery diarrhoea.

Hepatitis A Virus

The Hepatitis A Virus is shed from an infected person in large numbers and is able to survive on environmental surfaces and is therefore easily transferred to hands. It is a highly contagious liver infection that causes inflammation and affects your liver functioning.

What can you do to prevent germs in the office?

The well-known saying “prevention is better than” cure couldn’t ring more true. The above illnesses can easily be prevented by doing the following:

Proper hand washing

The best prevention against the spread of germs is through proper hand hygiene practices, as bacteria and viruses travel easily through touch.

  • Wash hands thoroughly; after using the bathroom, before handling food and eating to prevent the transfer of bacteria and viruses.

  • If there are colleagues that do come into contact with animals, or their living environment, they should diligently wash their hands to prevent any illnesses spreading.

  • Damp hands are more likely to spread bacteria than dry hands, so ensure there are hand drying products available in bathrooms and kitchens to prevent the transfer of bacteria to other surfaces.

  • Also be sure to keep a hand sanitiser handy to ensure an additional level of protection.

Read our blog on the 5 reasons you should make a habit of handwashing.

Help your team maintain good hand hygiene practices by downloading the Comprehensive Handwashing Guide. It's full of great times and resources. 

Sanitise surfaces

Be sure to regularly sanitise and disinfect germ hot spots in the workplace such as:

  • Door handles and entry points,

  • Communal office equipment such as printers and phones

  • Employee desks (including telephones, keyboards and mice). A frequent techno hygiene service will curb the spread of germs.

  • Be sure to disinfect kitchen counters and appliances; especially before and after preparing food.

Take care when handling food

  • If colleagues are preparing food, or if your business has a canteen, care should be taken to use different cutlery, plates and chopping boards for raw and cooked foods.

  • Raw and cooked foods should be kept separately.

  • Remember to wash hands and sanitise surfaces before preparing food and also in between handling uncooked and cooked foods.

  • Ensure leftover food is kept refrigerated at all times to prevent it from going bad.

Implementing the above will go a long way in preventing the spread of germs in the office.

For advanced hygiene solutions, give us a call to arrange a custom solution for your business. 

Bakang Kganyago

Bakang Kganyago

Bakang is a Digital Marketing Executive for Rentokil Initial. A germaphobe at heart, he's passionate about learning and sharing insights on how to defeat the enemy we cannot see. Join his journey as he writes about the impact of germs in our daily lives.

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