cartoon germs

We are seeing a comeback of dangerous diseases such as mumps and polio, thanks to lower vaccination rates, insufficient cleaning and infection mitigation systems in facilities. If we don’t watch our habits — handwashing, how we cough and sneeze, staying home when sick — then infectious outbreaks will get worse.

The same can be said for more common infections, many of which can live for longer then expected on hard and soft surfaces. The most common are:

• The cold virus can live for days on hard surfaces and are infectious for at least 24 hours.

• The flu virus can live in the air for hours and on hard surfaces, as well as phones and keyboards, for 24 hours.

• Norovirus is highly contagious and causes the stomach flu. It can survive for weeks on hard surfaces.

• MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant infection commonly found in athletic and education facilities, as well as hospitals. It can survive on hard surfaces for days or even weeks because it can actually thrive without the presence of moisture.

The commonality between these pathogens — you can’t see them on surfaces, so identifying them is difficult without expensive microbiological testing. Therefore, facilities should err on the side of caution when disinfecting — especially during cold and flu season.

During this time, disinfecting should increase for high touch surfaces such as door handles, drinking fountains, door push bars, restrooms, nursing stations, preschools and day cares. Facilities with shared spaces should also amp up disinfecting programs.

To test efficacy of products, equipment and cleaning processes, use ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) meters. ATP readings are an in-field test that measures the soil and possible pathogen load present on a surface. Done before and again after cleaning, test results are an indication of the effectiveness of cleaning methods.

Best practices are to identify the microbe of concern and use the appropriate technology or disinfectant, at the correct concentration, to kill it. It is not advised to “chemical bomb” the building to fight infections — which would cause too much chemical exposure to the workers and pollute the indoor air. Instead, work with a distributor of industry expert to identify the appropriate disinfecting solution or technology for the job.

Pathogenic organisms are sneaky, small and quick. They can mutate, become resistant and hibernate, and they can sneak up on us. “Chemical bombing” facilities is not the way to fix the problem. Take control, educate, train and set up processes, protocols and procedures using great chemistry, equipment and technology. That is needed to be able to take control and protect facilities daily from pathogens. 

HEIDI WILCOX is an applied microbiologist, presenter, educator and trainer in the cleaning industry. She is also the president and founder of Wilcox EVS, a consultancy specializing in “cleaning and disinfecting for health.” Working in the worlds of science, engineering and commercial cleaning, Heidi examines challenges within facilities and provides solutions to streamline processes and protocols. She advocates for reduced use of synthetic chemicals, which will also decrease hazards and exposures to staff and building occupants. Heidi has been integral in working with facilities to set up proactive infection/mitigation protocols for infection control.

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Protection From Pathogens