Once a pathogen is identified, it should be easy for properly trained frontline workers to destroy it, assuming they can stop it from spreading. Unfortunately, viruses and bacteria spread very easily via surface contamination or from person to person.

As far as transmission from person to person is concerned, respiratory viruses are at the top of the list. Probably the most transmittable of these viruses is measles, as it has about a 99 percent chance of infecting previously uninfected individuals who are exposed.

Luckily, most get vaccinated against measles, so its infectiousness isn’t as much of a problem. However, there are plenty of respiratory viruses out there that are easily transmittable and aren’t protected against with a vaccine.

“Transmission of respiratory viruses — and also many viruses transmitted via surfaces — depends on the relative humidity and temperature,” says Gerba. “That is why it is believed that certain viruses are more common than others at certain times of the year. For example, influenza virus survives best at low relative humidity, which you experience when heating buildings during the winter. Other viruses — like enteroviruses — are more common in the late summer and fall when humidity is higher.”

The ease with which a virus can be transmitted is also impacted by the number of particles needed for a certain type of virus to cause an infection.

“For example, noroviruses can survive for weeks on surfaces and ingesting just one to 10 viral particles is all that is needed to cause an infection,” says Gerba. “This is why disinfection of surfaces is key in its control. Colds and flus can be transmitted this way, but these only survive a few hours to days on surfaces.”

The best way to prevent a respiratory virus from spreading is to have those who are infected stay home. Of course, building service contractors do not have authority to make sick people stay away, so they must focus on what they can control.

Experts stress the importance of cleaning and disinfecting daily. This will help combat contamination on facility surfaces, but these pathogens can also travel through the air. BSCs should educate their customers on cleaning programs for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units. Not only will attention in this area prevent building occupants from breathing in virus droplets, but it will minimize the recontamination of surfaces. Experts suggest using technology such as room purifiers that leverage the capabilities of ultraviolet (UV) light.

While fighting viruses, it’s important not to ignore bacteria that can spread throughout facilities. According to Trinks, bacteria that spreads through the oral-fecal route can cause real issues for some and are less harmful to others.

For example, people with a weaker immune system are more likely to suffer from MRSA, E. coli, or salmonella than healthier individuals who can usually fight off the bacteria. That’s why MRSA is such an issue in healthcare facilities, where people are more likely to have an open wound or have a compromised immune system. Training staff on proper products, processes and cleaning frequencies can help protect these populations and curb the spread of bacteria.

All throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other groups have stressed the importance of good hand hygiene and routine cleaning. That’s not because these groups are paranoid. In fact, most infection control experts stress that proper hand hygiene and the routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces are key to preventing the spread of infection.

It’s also important that BSCs understand how infections spread and know the weaknesses of certain viruses and bacteria. From there, they can identify the threat and create a plan of attack.

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Viruses And Bacteria: What's the Difference?