The flu season normally peaks in Canada around November, and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is already cautioning that people could be in for bad spell. While health officials won’t quite know what to expect until later this fall, facilities should still brace themselves with effective cleaning methods no matter what strain will spread.
“Every flu season is different each year, says Dr. Michelle Murti, a public health physician at Public Health Ontario. “In this part of the season, we’re just starting to see some flu activity, so it can be hard to say what will happen throughout the rest of the season. Until we start seeing more activity, we’ll then have a better sense of the more dominant strain of influenza for this year.”
The PHAC’s first FluWatch report found influenza activity remains at inter-seasonal levels across the country, but several indicators are above expected levels compared to previous seasons. And during the last week of September, a greater number of regions reported sporadic activity compared to previous seasons.
Meanwhile, health officials often look to what’s happening in the Southern Hemisphere to get a sense of what may come to Canada, and Australia is just recuperating from a worse-than-normal peak season of Influenza A (H3N2), a flu subtype that is a more severe strain, especially for high risk groups like the elderly and young children.
“Australia has been having a bad flu season, but that doesn’t always translate into what we see here,” adds Murti. “It’s an indication, but not a prediction of what we might experience in our fall and winter.”
Case for Effective Cleaning
No matter what strain of influenza is circulating, facilities must be prepared. Health Canada says flu is ranked among the top ten leading causes of death in Canada, and still many Canadians aren’t getting vaccinated, resulting in potential complications for those high risk groups. Only one-third of Canadians aged 12 and over got the flu vaccine in 2013-2014, according to Statistics Canada.
Mitigating the spread of influenza and cold germs in schools and long-term care facilities, where many of these age groups conglomerate, is a challenging and significant feat for facility managers and cleaning professionals. An infected person can be contagious for seven days after symptoms appear, leading to fast-spreading germs, while many staff continue working knowing they are ill.
Many others stay at home, which, from an economic perspective, means lost productivity and more healthcare costs. In fact, the Canadian Healthcare Influenza Immunization Network says about 1.5 million workdays are lost every year because of the flu, costing the nation $1 billion.
An effective cleaning and hand hygiene regimen can greatly reduce the spread of pathogens, improve human health, enhance the indoor environment and increase productivity.
How Influenza Spreads
Influenza is usually spread through sneezing, coughing or talking. Pathogens can travel person to person up to six feet.
“Even a day before a person has symptoms, they can start shedding virus particles—people may already be excreting secretions into the environment,” cautions Murti. “As they become sick, those first two or three days are when they shed the most virus.”
Infected individuals can also spread these germs by touching objects and high-touch surfaces, like desks, toys, books, electronics, keyboards, doorknobs, counters and faucets. Pathogens can also harbour on floors and railings, as well as walls and light switches. The viruses are transmitted to whoever touches the object, transferring the germs from the hands to the eyes, mouth or nose.
Battling Germs on Shared Surfaces
The only way to prevent contact with the virus and stop potential cross contamination is through effective cleaning. Often surfaces are not cleaned or not cleaned enough. When they are cleaned, a disinfecting wipe is often the only product used. According to the ISSA, routine cleaning removes the soil, dirt and impurities that harbour the infectious agents, while disinfecting kills the remaining environmental pathogens.
Disinfecting does not clean a surface; it kills other pathogens as per the product label, but only if used correctly and after the surface has been properly cleaned. If soils are still present on a surface, the efficacy of the disinfectant is diminished. To prevent this and ensure shared surfaces are cleaned and disinfected, do the following:
- Spray an all-purpose cleaner directly onto a microfiber cleaning cloth; use the cleaning solution sparingly, then wipe shared surfaces.
- After cleaning, disinfect using EPA registered products with label claims indicating the product kills the flu. Properly apply the disinfectant, either using a disinfecting wipe or by applying a Drug Identification Number registered (DIN-registered) disinfectant to a fresh microfiber cleaning cloth. Always follow label directions for dwell time—the amount of time disinfectants must reside on a surface in order to properly kill germs.
- If necessary, use a third microfiber cloth to remove any chemical residue.
- Administrators and cleaning staff should list, in writing, all touchable areas that must be cleaned, along with cleaning frequencies. Having this in writing helps ensure the steps are carried out. Some of these high-touch areas include elevator buttons, microwave and refrigerator handles, coffee pot handles, thermostat controls, remote controls and restroom partition handles.
These steps should be repeated regularly if not daily, especially in the winter months when we see the most cases of influenza.
Effectively Cleaning Larger Surfaces
It is typically the job of the cleaning workers to ensure that germs and bacteria, whether from influenza or other infections, are removed from larger surfaces and that these areas are also properly disinfected. They should follow the same steps just mentioned using a DIN-registered disinfectant and microfiber along with the following:
- Only use microfiber cloths five to ten times. After that, germs and bacteria start to accumulate on the fibers, causing them to be spread on surfaces and not be removed.
- Again, it is imperative to allow disinfectants to dwell on surfaces for about ten minutes or as instructed by the manufacturer.
- When wiping surfaces with an all-purpose cleaner, encourage workers to use a heavy hand; this increases agitation, necessary to removing pathogens.
- Never double dip cleaning cloths. Some workers fill a bucket with water and a cleaning solution or a disinfectant. Each time they place the used cloth back in the solution, they are double dipping. In time, the cleaning solution or disinfectant loses its efficacy.
The Bigger Picture
Cleaning staff are on the front line when it comes to combating the spread of influenza in public spaces. Education and learning the right steps and why they are so important will also help germ-proof facilities or, at the very least, keep the number of sick cases down.
Paul Goldin is Vice-President of Professional Cleaning Solutions for Avmor, Canada’s leading provider of professional cleaning solutions, Avmor’s innovative products and cleaning programs promote efficient, healthier and sustainable practices that exceed performance expectations. He can be reached through the company website at www.avmor.com or [email protected]or.com.