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Infection Control

Warding Off Cold And Flu Season In Schools

April 25, 2012
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IEHA and The Housekeeping Channel (HC) are pleased to present free flu-prevention information.

According to the free — plus $4.50 for shipping and handling — IEHA pocket guidebook, Clean and Healthy Schools For Dummies: "Proper cleaning, sanitation and good personal hygiene practices are the most effective means of controlling the spread of common diseases — more effective than vaccines or antibiotics. Effective cleaning of frequently touched school surfaces, combined with handwashing and/or use of hand sanitizers where soap and water is not available, has been shown to significantly reduce the number of infections and reduce absentee rates due to illness by 50 percent or more."

Clean Hands, Clean Bill Of Health

Making sure your hands are clean is one of the best things you can do avoid infection.

Make sure that you wash:

  • Before and after eating or handling food
  • After you cough into your hands or contact blood or bodily fluids
  • After using the restroom or changing a diaper
  • After handling animals, their toys, leashes or waste
  • After touching something that has a good chance of being contaminated, such as a trashcan or cleaning cloth
  • Before dressing a wound, giving, medicine or inserting contact lenses
  • More often when you''re sick or during the cold or flu season
  • Whenever they look dirty.
For healthy schools, proper cleaning of commonly touched surfaces and restrooms must be top priority.

The emphasis on proper is important: Some ways of cleaning are ineffective in removing microbial contamination, and others have been shown to actually spread contamination to other surfaces.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways.

Although widespread influenza activity occurs every year, the timing, severity and duration of it depend on many factors, including which flu viruses are spreading, the number of people who are susceptible to the circulating flu viruses and how well the flu vaccine is matched to the flu viruses that are causing illness.

The timing of flu can vary from season to season: In the United States, seasonal flu activity most commonly peaks in January or February, but flu viruses can cause illness from early October to late May.

Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through coughs and sneezes of infected individuals.

People may also become infected by touching something with flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

Importance Of Cleaning And Disinfecting

The following are six crucial considerations:

1. Know the difference between cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing

Cleaning removes germs, dirt and impurities from surfaces or objects.

Cleaning works by using soap or detergent and water to physically remove germs from surfaces.

This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects.

This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements.

This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.

2. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are touched often

Follow your school''s standard procedures for routine cleaning and disinfecting.

Typically, this means daily sanitizing of surfaces and objects that are touched often, such as desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, hands-on learning items, faucet handles, phones and toys.

Some schools may also require daily disinfecting of these items.

Standard procedures often call for disinfecting specific areas of the school, like restrooms.

Immediately clean surfaces and objects that are visibly soiled.

If surfaces or objects are soiled with bodily fluids or blood, use gloves and other standard precautions to avoid coming into contact with the fluid.

Remove the spill, and then clean and disinfect the surface.

3. Simply do routine cleaning and disinfecting

It''s important to match your cleaning and disinfecting activities to the types of germs you want to remove or kill.

Most studies have shown that the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for only two to eight hours after being deposited on a surface.

Therefore, it is not necessary to close schools to clean or disinfect every surface in the building to slow the spread of flu.

Also, if students and staff are dismissed because the school cannot function normally — such as high absenteeism during a flu outbreak — it is not necessary to do extra cleaning and disinfecting.

Flu viruses are relatively fragile, so standard cleaning and disinfecting practices are sufficient to remove or kill them.

Special cleaning and disinfecting processes, including wiping down walls and ceilings, frequently using room air deodorizers and fumigating, are not necessary or recommended.

These processes can irritate eyes, noses, throats and skin; aggravate asthma; and cause other serious side effects.

4. Clean and disinfect correctly

Always follow label directions on cleaning products and disinfectants.

Wash surfaces with a general cleaner to remove germs, rinse with water and follow with a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered disinfectant to kill germs.

Read the label to make sure it states that the EPA has approved the product for effectiveness against influenza A virus.

5. Use products safely

Pay close attention to hazard warnings and directions on product labels. Cleaning products and disinfectants often call for the use of gloves or eye protection.

Do not mix cleaners and disinfectants unless the labels indicate it is safe to do so.

Combining certain products, such as chlorine bleach and ammonia cleaners, can result in serious injury or death.

Ensure that custodial staffs, teachers and others who use cleaners and disinfectants read and understand all instruction labels and understand safe and appropriate use.

This might require that instructional materials and training be provided in other languages.

6. Handle waste properly

Follow your school''s standard procedures for handling waste, which may include wearing gloves.

Place no-touch waste baskets where they are easy to use.

Throw disposable items used to clean surfaces and items in the trash immediately after use.

Avoid touching used tissues and other waste when emptying waste baskets.

Wash your hands with soap and water after emptying waste baskets and touching used tissues and similar waste.

IEHA is a 3,500-plus professional member organization for persons employed in facility housekeeping at the management level. IEHA provides members with an array of channels through which they can achieve personal and professional growth. For more information, contact IEHA at (800) 200-6342 or go to The Housekeeping Channel strives to be the web''s most comprehensive storehouse of factual information for consumers and media on achieving a clean, organized and healthy indoor environment. More information can be found at For a free copy of Clean and Healthy Schools for Dummies, click here.

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