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Infection Control

Dry, Healthy Hands Safeguard The Entire Facility

September 19, 2010
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Coincidentally, no sooner than I sit down to write this article does news break.

"City Swine Surge Shuts [Three] Schools," reports the New York Post.

According to the Post''s article:

"The city abruptly shuttered three public schools in Queens late yesterday after an explosion of new swine-flu cases. They include a critically ill assistant principal on a ventilator, the most severe illness in the city from the virus to date. The forceful action — which affects nearly 4,500 students at PS 16 in Corona, IS 5 in Elmhurst and IS 238 in Hollis — is a stark reversal from what appeared to be waning concern citywide about the virus. By last night, a total of 178 confirmed cases had been diagnosed in the city since it first hit in April."

And, an ongoing pandemic threat is not only isolated to educational facilities.

Looming Threats

During the past five-plus years, the health care community, the cleaning industry as well as the general public have all become increasingly aware of virulent bacteria, cross-contamination, mutant viruses and infection control.

Further, the building service contractor''s (BSC) and in-house service provider''s (ISP) roles have shifted during this timeframe, and these individuals and companies are now more responsible than ever before to protect the health and well-being of today''s facilities and their occupants.

Recent news of community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and H1N1 influenza (swine flu) call for proactive cleaning answers and strict infection control procedures.

How serious is the threat? When it comes to hospitals, a report by The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are the fourth-largest killer in the U.S., with more than two million hospital patients a year contracting infections and an estimated 103,000 dying as a result.

This total is more than the yearly deaths in the U.S. attributed to car accidents, breast cancer and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) — combined.

As mentioned, this issue stretches beyond the reach of only hospitals and schools.

Today, every facility, including schools, hotels, gyms, retail and food service establishments, is on alert and, therefore, should be stressing proper hygiene strategies everyone must practice.

A Call For Proper Hand-washing (And Drying)

"The main [factor] to break the chain of cross-contamination is more frequent hand-washing," remarks Markham Ray, director of marketing, Away From Home Division, for Kruger Products Limited.

By now, most are aware of the need to wash hands frequently and when needed.

However, "while most people are aware of the importance of hand-washing, hand-drying is also a critical step in reducing the transmission of pathogenic microorganisms," adds Suzanne Blanchet, president and CEO of Cascades Tissue Group.

Wet hands can be as dangerous as dirty hands.

"Very careful washing can help remove transient surface bacteria and some residents from deeper skin layers; however, careful washing is of little benefit unless the hands are dried properly afterwards," asserts DeAnna Dessify, Wausau Paper''s product manager - Towel & Tissue. "Remaining transients can be transferred between surfaces and people, which increases the chances of cross infection."

The removal of water, continues Dessify, is critical because water can create a warm, moist condition where bacteria could thrive.

"Dry hands are safe hands because remaining moisture on the skin acts as a transfer medium for germs," concurs Ray. "And, I would even take this discussion one step further. There are several studies and recommendations that show paper towel use is a key factor in the hand-drying process. The wiping action of the paper towel can remove bacteria from the skin."

Sprucing Up

Some facilities, especially hospitals, have added additional alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations in response to cross-contamination threats.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends the frequent use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

According to CDC''s website, "… if soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based product to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast acting."

Touch-free technology is taking these stations as well as restroom dispensers — and dispensers in general — to the next level of hygiene.

"Restrooms are a potential source of contamination, especially when unwashed hands come into contact with inanimate objects, such as toilet and sink handles and towel and bath tissue dispensers," notes Peter Leahy, office building segment manager for Kimberly-Clark Professional. "Touchless restroom systems can help minimize the spread of infection by eliminating the need to touch potentially contaminated environmental surfaces."

Power Of The Good Stuff

Besides touching levers, handles and knobs, common reasons why occupants disregard proper hand-washing include: Restroom areas/surfaces appear dirty; takes too long; and no supplies are available or equipment is broken.

Not only should facility managers and cleaning professionals be sure to provide adequate supplies and touch-free technology, but to further encourage hand-washing and drying, offer premium products.

"By offering premium paper products, you get [multiple] benefits," says Ray. "Users dry their hands quickly, effectively and completely. Also, by using these types of products, there is no need to use extra towels so there is reduced consumption because you can do the job with less, therefore your costs are less. [Additionally,] people actually appreciate the fact that they have these products available and the [facility] is concerned about hygiene and well-being."

And for facilities that prefer hand dryers to paper towels, several new generation, high-powered hand dryers have entered the market.

"The new generation of hand dryers operate efficiently and dry hands rapidly and thoroughly," says Denis Gagnon, president for Excel Hand Dryer Inc. "Building owners should always select sensor-operated dryer models for hygiene purposes. They should opt for user-friendly dryers that do not require patrons to insert

their hands into a trough, which presents the risk of touching a potentially unclean surface and may invite mischief and vandalism."

The bottom line in reducing cross-contamination is that proper hand-washing is the single most important practice to prevent the spread of disease.

Therefore, growing awareness to all building occupants should be a continuous strategy.

"Hand-washing is essential to the reduction of cross-contamination," says Dessify. "The benefits of hand-washing should be promoted with proper signage in key areas to keep the message mindful when needed most."

From manufacturer to distributor to end user to building occupant, a team effort is required to help keep your facility out of the news through frequent, effective hand-washing.

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