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They check out, but their germs don't leave

When sick hotel guests leave their rooms, they frequently leave something important behind: the virus that gave them their colds.

During an overnight hotel stay, people with colds left viruses on telephones, light switches, and television remotes, researchers said yesterday at an infectious disease conference in San Francisco.

Infectious disease specialists caution people to wash their hands and avoid touching their noses and faces to avoid catching colds that infect about 60 million people in the United States annually. The study, sponsored by Reckitt Benckiser PLC, maker of the Lysol cleaner, suggests that infectious cold germs may survive longer in the environment than has been thought.

``When you touch surfaces a day later, the virus may still be there," said Owen Hendley, a pediatrician at University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville who led the research.

Hendley and his team had 15 patients infected with rhinoviruses, a common cold germ, spend the night in a hotel. Each volunteer spent at least five hours awake in the room before sleeping, and then another two hours awake before leaving the following morning. The Virginia researchers then swabbed objects and surfaces that had been touched during the stay. About 35 percent of those objects and surfaces had cold viruses.

Some of the patients appeared to be more efficient spreaders of the virus, Hendley said, contaminating as many as eight of 10 surfaces they touched.

The findings don't mean that the virus was capable of causing a cold after sitting overnight on a light switch, said Stuart Levy, a Tufts University School of Medicine infectious disease specialist, in an interview at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, where the study was presented.

``It's an interesting study," he said. ``But they haven't shown infectivity. I'm not going to go around opening doors with my elbows."

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