Webster’s dictionary defines fomite as, “An object that may be contaminated with infectious organisms and serve in their transmission.” So, with that in mind, how long do you think bacteria or a virus can survive outside the body? Well, this depends on several factors including: 1) the type of bacteria or virus, the surface it’s on (a fomite), and 2) what the environment is like.
First, let’s discuss the three most common viruses on college campuses across the country. These include the common cold, the flu, and stomach viruses. The cold virus can survive on indoor surfaces for more than seven days but their ability to cause infection reduces rapidly over those seven days. Think about a surface that you have touched, such as a door knob infected with a cold virus. You are more likely to be infected by the cold virus on day one than on day seven because it is more potent on day one. The flu virus doesn’t live as long outside the body as the common cold virus. The flu virus is capable of being transferred from hard surfaces to hands for 24-hours but has a unique ability to survive as droplets in the air for several hours. Lastly are the stomach viruses. There are many different viruses and bacteria that can occur in the stomach but the one that is typically seen in college settings is the Norovirus. Studies have shown that Norovirus can last for weeks on hard surfaces and these cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Unfortunately, we can’t live inside of a bubble to prevent the spread of these viruses but there are ways to reduce risk.
• The most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently.
• If you are not able to get to a sink to wash your hands, carry hand sanitizer with you for easy access.
• Keep your hands out of your face, especially if you can’t wash them as much as you need to.
• Push open doors with your elbow or your hip. If you must use your hands to open a door, use a tissue, paper towel or the bottom of your shirt. The flu virus can survive on a tissue for only 15 minutes.
• Don’t share anything! People forget about utensils, especially when everything in New Orleans tastes so good. If someone wants to taste what you are eating, have them use their own utensil.
• If you are sick, washing your hands is the most important thing you can do to prevent spreading the virus. You should also cough and sneeze into your elbow to keep your hands clear and clean.
• Protect yourself from contracting the flu by getting a flu shot. Remember that the flu vaccine does not give you the flu. The flu vaccine may cause you to have a low grade fever and body aches but not the actual virus. The flu vaccine does not give you protection from the flu virus until two weeks after the vaccine was given so get your vaccine early.
Loyola Student Health has partnered with Walgreen’s pharmacy to offer free flu shots on Monday, October 3; Wednesday, October 5; and Thursday, October 6 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. each day. Please bring your pharmacy and/or insurance card to receive the vaccine free of charge. Vouchers will be offered to the uninsured. No appointment is necessary and walk-ins are encouraged! Student Health is located on the basement level of the Danna Center, directly below the Orleans Room and can be reached at (504) 865-3326 for more information.