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Infection Control

Remain Vigilant

May 07, 2012
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When the days get shorter and there''s a tell-tale chill in the air, everyone knows that it is time to take some extra care when it comes to their health.

It''s engrained in the collective psyche of society that the late fall and winter months equate to the typical cold and flu season.

As if on cue, people become more careful about the spread of germs.

Reminders go up throughout buildings, companies target their marketing towards comforting the sick, health centers take extra precautions against the spread of highly contagious seasonal bugs and everyone rushes out to get a flu shot.

But, something interesting happens when the season changes from winter to spring: Those extra vigilant persons and precautions seem to slowly fade before disappearing until the next time they are deemed necessary.

Why, if we know that prevention is the best way to stop the start and spread of germs, do we ramp up precautions and awareness for a few months out of the year, only to let things slide when the sun starts to shine brighter and the days get a little longer?

With all we now know about the spread of infections and diseases — even something as benign as the common cold — wouldn''t it make more sense to maintain a heightened state of vigilance through the year?

Even when not faced with the immediate threat of colds and the flu — which only seems to make itself known in the winter months — germs, bacteria and microbes are still present on everything we come in contact with, day in and day out.

Americans suffer from more than one billion colds each year, costing U.S. businesses nearly $17 billion annually in wages and lost worker productivity.

Worse, seasonal influenza costs more than $37 billion annually and results in more than $10 billion in lost worker productivity.

However, this is just the monetary damage; even more sobering are these facts about the flu:

  • Each year, five to 20 percent of Americans come down with the flu
  • Of these, more than 200,000 are hospitalized and 36,000 die from flu-related diseases
  • The elderly, pregnant women and children are at greatest risk.
Because of this, it is important to remember the value of proper cleaning techniques.

According to Tom Morrison, vice president of marketing for Kaivac Inc., "Effective cleaning plays a significant role in preventing the spread of infection. Mops and cloths can spread contaminants just as much as they clean. But, with a spray-and-vacuum system, the machine applies cleaning agents to all surfaces to be cleaned and then rinses and vacuums the same areas with the machine''s built-in wet vacuum system."

Effective Cleaning To Hand Hygiene

Even if soap and water isn''t readily available for conventional handwashing, instant hand sanitizers have becoming increasingly popular.

And, while they should not be used as replacements for soap and water, they are handy in a pinch.

"Many building managers and facility managers are making these dispensers more available due to the fact that germs can be spread by both direct transmission — handshaking, sneezing, coughing, etc. — and indirect transmission — touching doorknobs or elevator buttons," says Roger McFadden, senior scientist for Staples Advantage.

Hospitals and other health facilities should already remain vigilant in their infection control practices, but they should always keep in mind that, just because people with colds and the flu aren''t flooding through their doors, all isn''t always well.

These facilities have other bugs to worry about.

Hospitals and the like have infections that don''t commonly appear in the everyday environment, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficle (C. diff) that can affect patients.

These bugs do not live and die by a so-called season; they have the potential to be present every day, putting the lives of patients at risk if the surfaces they can live on are not cleaned, sanitized, disinfected or sterilized properly every time.

One would think that it would be second nature for healthcare facilities especially to remain extra vigilant against such bugs, but with outbreaks at hospitals in Canada in the news, it does bring to light the question of who is doing the cleaning and how dedicated or committed are they to their job.

A recent story from The Vancouver Sun exposed the problem Canadian health facilities are having with controlling and preventing C. diff outbreaks in their hospitals, and officials are pointing to the increased use of contract cleaners as on culprit.

Those who have little to no personal connection to a facility like an in-house staff may contribute to a lack of vigilance in regard to making and keeping infection control a priority.

Even press releases from companies invested in healthcare or healthcare-related products begin to dwindle as the weather warms.

During the winter months, each company with a stake in the infection control market pushes their products, tips and advice on how to stay healthy during the cold and flu season.

But, once that season is over, those marketing tips are on the shelf again until the next season.

There are some exceptions, especially when it comes to schools, where it is increasingly believed that educating students during their formative years will instill in them the proper practices to keep them healthy all year round.

The industry as a whole should take a page out of educators'' books and practice constant vigilance against bugs and viruses all year round and not just when something is most likely to make you sick.

Bacteria and viruses don''t know that there is a specified season during which they are supposed to make people sick.

Be smarter than the germs; keep up your defenses.

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