Not every BSC was located in a city or region that had an active case of Ebola, however. In fact, New York was the only domestic location other than Dallas where a case of Ebola was diagnosed during the 2014 outbreak. In total, four people were diagnosed in this country. One man, the Liberian, died. The other three victims — two nurses who contracted it from the patient in Dallas and one doctor who contracted it in Guinea while performing medical aid work — were treated and survived.

The spread was curbed thanks to prompt diagnosis, quarantine of patients, monitoring of those who may have come in contact with those patients, and proper use of personal protective equipment, including Tyvec suits that protect healthcare workers from the bodily fluids of patients.

Proper cleaning and infection control measures are also integral to stopping the spread of any pathogen, bacteria, disease or pandemic, says Bill Balek, ISSA’s director of legislative and environmental services.

“It has been demonstrated conclusively that routine cleaning and disinfection play a critical role in preventing the transmission of infectious diseases, whether it be the common flu or a pandemic event,” he says. “Building service contractors who actually perform these essential functions, represent our front line of defense in the war on pandemic outbreaks and other infectious diseases.”

Although many contractors are confident they are prepared to handle viral outbreaks during cold and flu season, fewer have gone the extra mile to create and implement an official pandemic plan. Most customers in healthcare facilities will have their own pandemic plans, but when outbreaks happen, BSCs will hear from all types of customers — and many of them expect their contractor partners to be prepared and have a plan.

“Most customers aren’t as concerned about pandemic planning or infection control until something hits, like Ebola,” says Haddock. “But recently, we’ve seen the bird flu and swine flu and Ebola, and awareness has grown over the last few years because of it.”

Pandemics are defined as epidemics of infectious disease that spread through widespread populations, possibly even worldwide. Pandemic plans for BSCs should address influenza pandemic outbreaks such as H1N1, as well as less common outbreaks such as SARS, avian flu and Ebola.

Even though it is difficult for anyone to be able to anticipate the next big pandemic, building service contractors should make it a priority to have knowledgeable experts on staff who are staying current on new infectious diseases, creating a pandemic plan and revisiting it regularly for updates.

Brian Schindler, vice president of HOTT Associates in Cleveland, has taken a special interest in infection control over the years, and he stays up to date on infectious diseases and pandemics that his company may encounter. Schindler has worked with a few clients on pandemic planning and preparation, but says that largely, it’s not a topic on most of his customers’ radars.

“It can be hard, first of all, to start a discussion about pandemic planning when you’re not even talking to the right people in an organization. The people we’re dealing with on sales calls, the ones hiring us, are not usually the decision makers that are thinking about how pandemics could affect their facilities and workforce,” says Schindler. “It can take a scare like what happened with Ebola for customers to pay attention.”

It’s important for BSCs to have a written procedure that helps them deal with an outbreak or scare. The plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but it should address internal preparations and processes as well as a communications strategy that establishes the janitorial contractor as a trusted partner and expert, says Schindler.

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