Communicable Diseases

February 05, 2013

The holiday gift you don’t want to receive…

Alison Epperson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Health Ed.
Murray State University

‘Tis the season for germs and no one wants to have their holiday fun ruined feeling under the weather. Having to stay in due to snow is one thing; staying home because you and your germs are not a welcome party guest is another.

This season, share the love, not the germs by keeping in mind that the best prevention is protection. On a personal level, some simple steps make a huge difference:

  • Hand washing
  • Covering your cough or sneeze
  • Staying home when you have a fever
  • Not sharing personal items such as towels, razors and uniforms jerseys
  • Covering an open wound
  • Constantly disinfecting high contact items (i.e. weight/bench equipment, doorknobs, computers, phones, bathrooms, etc.)

Typically during this time of year, we tend to be more concerned about colds/flu. However, since the initial hype in 2007 regarding MRSA, many of us may have let it slide off our radar. Consequently, it is important to remember that Flu and MRSA germs have very similar methods of transmission and can live outside the body for extended periods of time, and passed in droplet form by way of a sneeze or cough.
MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a “staph” based germ that does not respond to typical antibiotics used to treat staph infections (
Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections. Most of these skin infections are minor (such as pimples and boils) and can be treated without antibiotics although some cases can result in serious infections such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and joint infections (

For the most part, a person becomes infected with MRSA through direct physical contact with the bacteria via a break in the skin (cut or scrape). The staph can be spread by the infected person to someone else or to an object, including clothing, bed linens, sports equipment, personal items (soap or wash cloths) or furniture. MRSA bacteria can also be carried in the armpit, groin, or genital area ( It is also important to keep in mind that bacteria thrive in warm, moist environments.

Depending upon your academic calendar, you may be entering a slow period as students travel home, or an increase in activity as the weather drives people indoors. Whatever the case, December is a good time to get into the practice of good hygiene. Inevitably January usually causes fitness facilities to burst at the seams from New Year’s resolutions and the pre-spring break weight loss bikini binge.

The length of time the flu can remain alive on a surface ranges from a few minutes to 48 hours, but it is important to keep these factors in mind;

  • Germs generally remain active longer on stainless steel, plastic and similar hard surfaces than on fabric and other soft surfaces. Other factors, such as the amount of virus deposited on a surface and the temperature and humidity of the environment, also have effects on how long cold and flu germs stay active outside the body.
  • It’s easy to catch the flu or a cold from rubbing your nose after handling an object an infected person sneezed on a few moments ago. But personal contact with an infected person – a handshake, for example – is the most common way these germs spread.

(Source: Dr. James M. Steckelberg, Mayo Clinic Internist)

At the workplace, taking proactive steps to reduce the opportunity for flu and MRSA transmission during this time is simple — signage and policy enforcement!

  • Post signs everywhere about hand washing and wiping down equipment after use
  • Use cleaver images or catchy wording — people are more likely to take preventive methods when they see unpleasant visual images
  • Signs should be on bright or neon colors and posted at an angle (more likely to catch attention)
  • Stock pile your gym wipes, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer
  • Have staff available to ‘patrol’ high usage areas to remind patrons to use barriers (i.e. towel or clothing) between their bodies and equipment such as benches, yoga mats, etc.
  • Do not allow patrons with an exposed cut or open wound to use any equipment or towels unless the wound is completely and securely covered
  • In Intramurals, consider requiring teams to provide their own shirts/jerseys
  • If that’s not a possibility, jerseys SHOULD NOT be used more than once by different players and a recommendation would also be that players also wear a full t-shirt that covers the armpit
  • Jerseys should be collected after the game and put into a plastic bag using disposable gloves. They should be washed (with bleach if possible) and allowed to dry completely.

As for your staff (especially counter workers and office personnel), encourage them to stay home if they are running a fever, coughing or sneezing. If they must come to work, don’t be afraid to run around behind them with disinfecting wipes or spray and keep plenty of hand sanitizer available!

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