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Infection Control Q&A: How long do germs live on surfaces after being exposed to the air?

May 02, 2013
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How long do germs live on surfaces after being exposed to the air?





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Depending on the virus or bacteria, they can live on environmental surfaces (under ideal conditions) for between 48 hours and > 58 days.  Because we don't know what is on the surface and whether or not it is alive, we need to be intentional in our efforts to make every surface that comes into contact with the hands of humans safe, clean and disinfected.

— Darrel Hicks, author of Infection Prevention for Dummies and owner of Darrel Hicks LLC




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What are the top five cleaning activities that will have the greatest impact on health and safety?



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  1. Proper and prudent use of chemical or environmental disinfection
  2. Use of proper PPE by cleaning workers
  3. Use of advanced soil and matter removal processes
  4. Proper training of cleaning workers
  5. The use of scientific measurement to validate the capture and removal of biological contaminates.

— Peter Sheldon Sr., a certified business service executive and industry expert


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1.Train and re-train hygiene specialists, or housekeepers, that their role is NOT cleaning for the sake of appearance, but for health. There is a science to cleaning and disinfecting which includes both the 1) clinical function of removing and inactivating/killing HAI producing microbes, and 2) a practical function of cleaning.

2. The cost of not performing their job role as directed could cost their employer millions of dollars by way of lawsuits. Patients enter our facilities worried about germs and about getting an infection. We can impact patient satisfaction and HAI rates by doing a good job and exceeding our patient's expectations.

3. Train those who clean that there is a pattern for cleaning: Clean the room from the top, down and from the cleanest part of the room to the dirtiest; leave the rest room for last.  When cleaning the "patient zone" (the area three feet around the patient’s bed, including the bed rails), use a new, clean cloth.

4. Never double dip a cleaning cloth. Set up a bucket of properly diluted disinfectant at the beginning of the shift, add 10-15 microfiber cloths to the bucket. Reach into the bucket for a clean, disinfectant-charged cloth; NEVER return or double-dip a soiled cloth into the solution because it will become contaminated.

5. Using a quaternary ammonium disinfectant with retired cotton cleaning cloths, such as surgical towels, terry cloth towels and washcloths, and mops is counterproductive. Unfortunately, this combination is used in most hospitals and hotels. Cotton inactivates quat disinfectants by binding the active ingredients to the cotton rather than releasing them to the surface. This happens within five minutes of introducing cotton to the bucket of quat disinfectant. In fact, you might as well be using water after five minutes because the parts per million (PPM) of active ingredients is out of specification.

— Darrel Hicks

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