Cleaning professionals clean all types of facilities from airports to hospitals to schools, so when the threat of a pandemic occurs — such as what happened in late April when a strain of flu that emerged in Mexico had a rapid geographic spread throughout the United States and the world — they’re working overtime to make sure customers and employees are getting the information they need.

Hundreds of human cases of swine flu, or H1N1 flu, have now been identified worldwide, including nearly 300 in the U.S., and the virus has caused one death in Texas in addition to a number in Mexico. Swine flu is a newer strain of flu virus that originated in pigs and had previously been passed to farm workers from the animals rather than from human-to-human.

The virus evolved, as many flu strains do, in human hosts and is now spread human-to-human. It is an influenza type A virus, the same as common flu bugs. This particular strain, however, worries health officials because it is sickening healthy young and middle-aged adults and it is contagious before hosts are showing symptoms. While cleaning professionals’ plans of attack are essentially the same as they would be for any flu outbreak or pandemic, and because the illness has a name unfamiliar to many, their role as educators has taken center stage.

Distributors can help educate in-house service providers and building service contractors on the best products and practices to use in combating H1N1. Cleaning professionals should be disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, including doorknobs, computer keyboards, phones and elevator buttons. They should also be encouraging building occupants to frequently wash and sanitize their hands. Distributors can help ensure customers’ restrooms are fully stocked with soap and towels, and that hand sanitizers are available in places where water is not accessible.

During any health scare, communication is one of the most vital pieces of the business puzzle, and manufacturers and distributors are providing much needed information to clients that they can use to educate their own employees and customers.

“We’re heavily engaged with all of our customers because they come to us as the experts to teach them any different cleaning procedure that needs to be done right now,” says John Ferguson, general manager at JanPak in Houston.

Customer concerns pertain mainly to availability of product as well as the best way to disinfect large areas such as workspaces and classrooms that do not have the same frequencies as restrooms and cafeterias.

“The other way it’s affected us is it’s blowing our inventory out on disinfectants and hand sanitizers specifically,” Ferguson says.

Cleaning professionals are consulting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web site, which updates consistently with any new cases or information about the swine flu outbreak. The basics of good human hygiene need to be stressed, and though some building owners will want a deep clean and disinfection, if cleaning professionals are cleaning correctly, procedures and frequencies should not have to change much.

“It’s no different — it’s influenza A and our products kill the influenza A virus,” says Ferguson. “Not trying to make light of it, but it’s no different than what we do every day, we just need to refocus on different areas of the building.”