The Down and Dirty on Cleaning in Virus Season
By Shari Cedar, CEO, AK Building Services
Fall is the start of the annual outbreak season. Commonly called, “Virus Season”, outbreaks are most prevalent between November and April, but are by no means limited to viruses alone.
How dirty is dirty?
Wherever people congregate tends to become an ideal breeding ground for viruses, bacteria and fungi. Left unchecked, microbial environments will flourish and thrive. Schools, hospitals, daycares, nursing homes and doctor’s offices are notoriously susceptible. Businesses that are open to the public are also vulnerable as are community spaces like libraries, gyms and sites of worship.
The American Society for Microbiology conducted a series of experiments to see just how rapidly contamination spread from a single doorknob in a high-traffic area. In as little as two to four hours after exposure, tracer viruses could be detected on 40-60 percent of those who interacted with the knob. High rates of contamination extended to other commonly touched surfaces like counter-tops, light switches, conference tables, remotes, cell phones and point-of-purchase card swipe terminals.
High-traffic surfaces need consistent attention. In other words, complacency kills. Controlling any illness starts with the microbiome and requires consistent, repetitive effort.
A single bacterium propagates at a rate of two new cells per hour. If a mere 10 bacteria cells were present on the doorknob in the cited experiment, within an hour there would be a total of 30 bacteria; within 10 hours the colony will replicate into well-over a half-million bacteria. Once the population of a contagion swells, more strenuous techniques will be required.
While most people have seen some of the devastating effects of COVID in recent years, dozens of other diseases spread rapidly via contact, including the common cold, influenza, strep throat, pink eye and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). While most people recover quickly from these common conditions, some like E. Coli, salmonella, listeria, SARS or norovirus can have devastating effects on the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems who can suffer lingering effects for weeks at a time. For vulnerable groups like these, sometimes simple exposure can lead to death.
Where Cleaning Helps
Experts in the cleaning industry must remain vigilant, especially with high-contact areas. Prevention is key and starts with consistent cleaning, disinfecting and sanitization.
1. Start with cleaning the surface to remove any extra grease or grime.
2. Wipe high-touch surfaces regularly with disinfectants like:
4 teaspoons to every liter of water
30 seconds or longer
Rubbing alcohol - 70% Isopropyl
30 seconds or longer
Rubbing alcohol - 99% isopropyl
Mix 2 parts isopropyl to 1 part water to create a 70% mixture
30 seconds or longer
Hydrogen peroxide - 3%
Mix 1 part hydrogen peroxide with 1 part water
3. Spray surfaces and then let them air dry. Remember, these chemicals, while readily available, can be harsh on delicate surfaces or on sensitive skin, so be sure to use personal protective equipment including masks and gloves to prevent accidentally exposing yourself and others to the chemicals or to the germs.
4. For objects and surfaces that are used in food preparation, apply the disinfectant, wait the suggested time and then rinse thoroughly with clean water, so that traces of the chemicals will not be ingested.
Encourage healthy hygiene habits and policies around absenteeism.
Post signs and notices to remind employees and visitors to wash their hands each time they visit the restroom. Including notices in other common areas like coffee stations, near water fountains, and break rooms can also help reduce outbreaks. Make supplies such as tissues, soap, and hand sanitizer readily available in common areas, too.
More importantly, advocate for employees and students to stay home when sick. When people come to work or class sick, they bring germs with them. No matter how well you try to maintain sanitary spaces, the pathogens brought into the environment quickly contaminate the surfaces and spread.
Host an on-site annual vaccination event.
Contact benefits providers or even local pharmacies to discuss hosting a vaccination clinic at your workplace. While vaccine effectiveness typically runs between 40 and 60 percent in outright effectiveness, studies from the World Health Organization confirm that vaccination greatly reduces the chances of an infection becoming life threatening. The chances for concurrent conditions that require hospitalization, such as pneumonia, are also greatly reduced.
Stay informed to stay ahead.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide details on confirmed outbreaks and delivers updates via their Health Alert Network on developing events.
Shari Cedar is the CEO of AK Building Services, an industry-leading family owned and operated commercial janitorial services provider in Florida, where she leads sales, strategy, marketing, communications, learning and development, and customer service. AK Building Services is GBAC (Global Biorisk Advisory Certified), LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and ISN certified. For more information about AK Building Services visit www.akbuildingservices.com.