June 24, 2020

Bacteria and Viruses: Learn More and Keep Your Workstation Clean

As the economy slowly opens up in many provinces, people are gradually heading back to work. Along with this return to office space, and also our vehicles, it is important to ensure we’re keeping our high-touch surfaces clean and sanitized.

Bacteria and viruses are similar but also very different at the same time.

  • They are both very small organisms that are so tiny they can only be seen through a microscope
  • Viruses are smaller than bacteria. In fact, the largest virus is smaller than the smallest bacterium
  • Both viruses and bacteria can cause mild to serious illnesses
  • There are viruses that infect bacteria
  • Viruses are not alive whereas bacteria is a live organism. Bacteria can live in the natural environment. Viruses are reproduced and evolve only within cells
  • Bacteria have the smallest eyeballs in nature but the largest relative to their size, but viruses don’t have eyeballs

What are bacteria? Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms that exist in their millions, in every environment, both inside and outside other organisms. They are neither plants nor animals and can be both “good” and “bad” for living organisms like us.

What are viruses? Viruses are very small particles that can infect animals and plants and make them sick. Viruses are made up of genetic materials like DNA and are protected by a coating of protein. This is why we need to wash our hands so often and for 20+ seconds, so that it can break down this protein and make the virus break apart. Viruses hijack the cells of living organisms. They inject their genetic material right into the cell and take control. They then use the cell to make more viruses and take over more cells.

Unlike bacteria which is a live organism, viruses cannot survive without a host. The length a virus can exist without a host varies on the type of virus; for example, some viruses might be on a surface for a few hours to a month, depending on the environment. The norovirus, more commonly known as the stomach bug or flu, stays on surfaces for long periods of time and are also difficult to kill. That is why this particular virus spreads so rapidly throughout daycares, schools and cruise ships.

While most viruses are considered to be “bad”, bacteria is actually most often good. Our bodies are filled with bacteria! If you were to collect all of the bacteria in your body it would weigh as much as your brain at roughly three pounds.

Also unlike bacteria, most viruses are quite specific about the cells they attack. For example, certain viruses attack the liver or respiratory system and many times when we get sick it is caused either by a virus or bacteria. Further, viruses such as the common cold cannot be cured by antibiotics whereas bacterial infections can.

Did you know these crazy facts about bacteria and viruses?

  • Tests show that there is generally more bacteria on a cell phone than a common toilet seat
  • There’re more bacteria in your mouth than there are people in the world
  • A dollar bill has 3,000 types of bacteria
  • The word bacteria is the plural form of bacterium, which means “staff or cane”. The first bacteria discovered looked rod-shaped
  • New bacteria grows on a kitchen sponge every 20 minutes
  • Bacteria on our skin and in our body protects us from other harmful bacteria species, ie: probiotics from yogurt contain good bacteria
  • The name virus was coined from the Latin word meaning slimy liquid or poison
  • Walter Reed discovered the first human virus, yellow fever virus, in 1901
  • There are a million virus particles per milliliter of seawater – for a global total of 1030 virions! Lined up end to end, they would stretch 200 million light years into space
  • Viruses are not alive: they do not have cells, they cannot turn food into energy, and without a host they are just inert packets of chemicals
  • Viruses are not exactly dead, either: they have genes, they reproduce, and they evolve through natural selection

Personal cleaning plan considerations

With this in mind as we head back to work, it’s important to have a personal cleaning plan in place for your workstation. High touch points in an office or cubicle include:

  • Computer keyboard
  • Desk phone, cell phone
  • Eyeglasses (if you touch them while working)
  • Light switches
  • Printer buttons
  • Door handle
  • USB’s or other computer-related devices

If your work station happens to be a vehicle, be sure to also clean your keys, dashboard dials, radio buttons, steering wheel shifter, interior and exterior door handles, etc. If not, the exercise of cleaning your personal vehicle is still a great habit.

How often should you clean your workstation? The general rule of thumb is to give everything a wipe down in the morning and before you leave at the end of the day. Ensure that your workstation is free of clutter so that it is easy to apply a disinfectant the following morning or by cleaners at the end of the day. As well, if you become ill, it is important that your workstation can be easily cleaned by someone else if needed. Use the cleaning supplies that your employer has provided to you such as: Lysol wipes, cleaning alcohol, gloves for certain interactions.

For more information about decontamination and other COVID-19 related tips, please check out our other blogs and articles on our website.

If you require decontamination as part of your reopening plan, please call us anytime, day or night at 1-888-663-6604.

Have an idea about a future blog or video? Please let us know at contactus@onside.ca

About the Author

Justin McConville, CRSP, Leader, Health, Safety & Environmental, On Side Restoration Services. Justin holds professional certifications as a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP). He has worked for On Side Restoration for the past 16 years, where he is responsible for the health and safety of over 1,300 On Side employees across Canada as well as the company’s hazardous materials divisions. Justin has been instrumental in the development of various policies and procedures to ensure continued compliance with multi-provincial regulatory requirements. Justin is an active member on the BCCSA Technical Advisory Committee which is focused on the development of industry safety standards and training. He is also a contributing member and subject matter expert on various committees including the WorkSafeBC/BCCSA: Prime contractor Committee, Asbestos Task Force Committee and Hazardous Materials Exposure Control Plan Committee. He was awarded the 2018 Safety & Health Week Champion Award by the BC Construction Safety Alliance for his dedication to and contribution in the development of industry safety resources.