PUBLISHED: 5:08 PM on Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Sick of getting sick? Fighting office ills

It's tough to ignore the hacking cough at the desk next to you or the thundering sneezes across the room.

Germs spread through offices like they grow in petri dishes.

The next thing you know, it could be you: Every year, millions of employees - and employers - battle the office bug.

A new range of products may help to stem the tide of sickness enveloping the office: antimicrobial office products that can kill mold and the germs that make people sick.

Yes, really.

Smead Manufacturing, based in Hastings, Minn., has started selling antimicrobial folders, pocket portfolios, file jackets and other office products, which have been available for about a year, said Michelle Hanson, marketing communications manager for Smead.

The office-supply company has $550 million in worldwide revenue and employs 2,600 people.

"The results are very promising," Hanson said. "It is one of our hottest new items we have launched recently."

The market for products that could lessen sickness around the office is growing into big business.

Courtesy photo
  Relaxing and avoiding stress at work will help combat any bacteria being passed around at the office and will boost your immune system.
Several other companies sell office products like pens and keyboards with antimicrobial features, Hanson said.

University of Michigan Health System researchers estimated the common cold costs the U.S. economy $40 billion a year - roughly $133 for every person in the country, according to 2003 data.

Hanson said Smead manufactures its folders and other products with a patented treatment of silver zeolite, an antimicrobial material.

The process is tested and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Drug Administration.

"There are very stringent guidelines that have to be followed," Hanson said.

The company says its products help guard against the growth of bacteria, odors, algae, mold, fungus and mildew - though it adds that other preventative steps also must be taken to reduce the risk of contamination.

Still, it says the products are ideal for hospitals, dentist offices and schools.

But Dr. J. Rush Pierce Jr., public health authority for the city of Amarillo, wonders if the product is really worth the cost, especially from what he has seen in the area.

"Though I am familiar with this product, I am unaware of any local cases of (staph infections that are resistant to most traditional antibiotics) or other infections that have been related to medical or dental charts," said Pierce, a physician.

Smead Manufacturing's antimicrobial products' claims:

The active ingredient in the product is silver, which prevents the growth of most harmful bacteria, essentially stopping the reproduction cycle of the bacteria.

Once bacteria is on the folder, it is killed over a period of time, usually in 12 to 24 hours.

The studies to date show that the company's antimicrobial paper has up to a 99.51 percent kill rate over a 24-hour period.

Antimicrobial products are effective for the life of the product; it does not wear out.