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Infection Control

Keeping educational communities safe

September 19, 2010
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When October 2007 dawned, the only thing that Catherine Anne Bentley, Shae Kiernan, and Ashton Bonds had in common was that they were in various stages of their education.

By October 15, Catherine, Shae, and Ashton had something else in common: All three had lost their lives after contracting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Unfortunately, the deaths of Catherine, Shae and Ashton are just some examples in what was a landmark year for MRSA and its effect on educational communities.

According to a New York Times report, elementary and secondary schools from Connecticut to Mississippi, New Hampshire to California, and North Carolina to Washington had to be closed at some point during the school year as cleaning crews disinfected buses, lockers, restrooms, and classrooms in response to the threat of a MRSA outbreak.

According to a study commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and reported by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in its October 2007 issue, hospital visits for staph infections rose by 62 percent between 1999 and 2005.

CDC research has shown that MRSA infections accounted for only 2 percent of the total number of staph infections reported in 1974.

That number increased to 22 percent in 1995, and by 2004 was up to 63 percent.

In the 2007 report that appeared in JAMA, the CDC estimated that 94,360 people in the United States developed a serious invasive (those that enter the bloodstream or destroy flesh) MRSA infection in 2005, and of that number, 18,650 died during a hospital stay — more than are killed by AIDS every year in this country.

This equates to a rate of 31.8 per 100,000 residents that developed invasive MRSA infections in 2005.

"This is an alarming number of infections and a very significant number of deaths," says R. Monina Klevens, an epidemiologist for the CDC and a lead researcher on the study. "This is really a call to action for health care facilities to do a better job of preventing MRSA."

It''s no surprise that the safety of the student body is a top priority at every educational institution.

These high-profile MRSA-related deaths and outbreaks have drawn much-needed attention to school facility cleanliness and student body hygiene.

Cleanliness and academic achievement

Co-sponsored by APPA, the leading association for educational facilities professionals, and the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), the worldwide cleaning industry association, the Cleanliness and Learning in Higher Education study surveyed college students from five institutions nationwide and came to the conclusion that there is a correlation between the cleanliness of a school''s facilities and the academic achievement of its students.

These results confirmed the findings in a series of studies between 1993 and 2002 which showed that student achievement in primary and secondary educational settings is also linked to the physical condition of buildings and learning areas; the better the condition, the higher the achievement.

The survey was answered by nearly 1,500 students attending Brigham Young University, Earlham College, Troy University, Truman State University, and the University of New Hampshire.

The students were asked to rate the cleanliness of their learning facilities based on the APPA''s "Five Levels of Cleanliness," and below are the results:

  • Level 1 — Orderly Spotlessness: Surfaces are clean, orderly, and dust-free in appearance.

  • Level 2 — Ordinary Tidiness: Surfaces have light dust, smudges and fingerprints, but are otherwise orderly and clean.

  • Level 3 — Casual Inattention: Surfaces have obvious dust, dirt, smudges and fingerprints.

  • Level 4 — Moderate Dinginess: Surfaces have heavy dust, dirt, smudges, fingerprints, stains, and some trash and odors.

  • Level 5 — Unkempt Neglect: Surfaces have major accumulations of dust, dirt, smudges, fingerprints, and excessive trash and odors.

Of the students polled, 88 percent reported that the lack of cleanliness becomes a distraction at Level 3 and Level 4.

Eighty-four percent reported that they need Level 1 or Level 2 cleanliness to create a positive learning environment.

Nearly 80 percent responded that a lack of cleanliness has an impact on their health and that this lack of cleanliness can also affect allergies, spread germs, increase bug and rodent infestations, and promote higher stress levels.

"These findings provide a vital tool for facility service providers to reinforce the benefits of cleaning. There''s also a great deal of public relations power in that message if an institution can use its cleaning program to inform students and their families what it is doing to protect the well-being of its population," says ISSA Executive Director John Garfinkel.

The solution

Keep educational facilities as clean as possible and the outbreak of potentially deadly MRSA incidents will be curbed.

It''s in the process of determining the best way to clean an educational facility where the fly enters the ointment.

Through the years, traditional methods of sanitation — especially in restrooms — have involved unpleasant, hands-on cleaning with a wide variety of hand-applied cleaning chemicals, which then had to be wiped off or swabbed up with a mop that oftentimes went back-and-forth into a bucket containing dirty water.

This method of cleaning not only brings the cleaning staff into close contact with any germs or bacteria that might be present, but it also takes a physical toll.

To do away with this method of cleaning and sanitation, strides have been made in the development and implementation of automatic/touch-free cleaning systems for daily cleaning applications.

The machines that are setting the standard in this growing market are affordable, battery-powered, self-contained portable-cleaning systems that use correctly dosed cleaning chemicals that are applied by spray nozzle using low-flow/low-pressure technology.

With these systems, the chemicals do the cleaning, not high pressure.

This low-pressure cleaning protects fixtures and grout from water damage and eliminates the spray-back of bacteria-contaminated water, all of which may occur with high-pressure — 500-plus psi — cleaning systems.

The low-flow design of these next-generation cleaning systems uses only half-a-gallon of cleaning solution per minute, eliminating the need for wet/dry-vac recovery and the handling of contaminated water, while at the same time reducing the slip-and-fall risk.

In addition, touch-free cleaning systems have several green benefits and are kind to the environment, using less water and chemicals compared to traditional methods.

The level of personal hygiene will always be at the whim of the individual, but when it comes to facilities, operators and managers have no recourse but to provide the most hygienic surroundings possible for their patrons.

With this added emphasis on cleanliness, automatic/touch-free cleaning systems are the perfect solution to the cleaning needs of all manner of educational facilities.

Chris Torry is ICS sales manager for Hydro Systems Co., Cincinnati, OH. Hydro recently debuted the ICS 8900 — a solution for touch-free cleaning of restrooms, locker/shower rooms, and similar facilities. Questions regarding the ICS 8900 can be addressed to Chris at (513) 271-8800 or

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