You’ve likely seen the headlines. You’ve likely seen the reports and yes, we hear about the flu every year, but this year the numbers are indicative of what could be one of the most brutal in years. The CDC reports the number of people visiting doctors for flu-like illness is increasing. What’s even scarier is that the number of flu related death of children – more than 50. So far this season, influenza A, H3N2, has been the most common form of influenza. When H3 viruses are predominant, we tend to have a worse flu season with more visits to the doctor, more hospitalizations and more deaths.
We still have a ways to go because the peak of flu season occurs anywhere from late November through March. While hospitals and clinicians are likely already taking the correct action, receiving the flu vaccine and following proper hand hygiene; they shouldn’t forget the importance of environmental cleaning. Proper routine cleaning is essential and is one effective infection control methods that can prevent transmission of the virus; influenza can live on surfaces for one to two days.1
But we must disinfect correctly.
Keep surfaces wet
Keeping surfaces clean and disinfected will help in the containment of hospital-acquired infections. Making sure the environmental services staff use bleach or another EPA registered disinfectant are vital for minimizing the spread of infection, but I often see some staff bypassing another critical step. Always ensure the surface remains wet for the duration of the manufacturer-recommended contact time.
A strong focus should also be placed on the ICU, where flu patients often pass through. Studies have shown the most high-touched objects are the bed rails, call buttons, light switches, side or tray tables, and toilets.2 We need to make sure those objects are remaining damp with disinfectant so that the next patient, who may be flu-free, doesn’t get infected as well.
Choose the right products
When concerned about influenza, using bleach or another EPA-registered product with a label claim to kill these pathogens is the best option. Ready-to-use, EPA-registered disinfecting wipes, which kill influenza in one minute, are an easy option for staff as they do not need to be diluted before use. Ready-to-use products with no dilution or premixing required helps reduce the risk of staff error.
For patients with confirmed or suspected cases of influenza, minimize their movement within the facility and limit visitors. Infected staff should also stay home for 48 hours after the resolution of symptoms. Data shows three out of every four workers will not take sick leave and would prefer to go to work. Don’t be the hero and don’t put yourself, your colleagues or your patients at risk because as we’ve seen this flu season, it truly is all hands on deck.
We should not underestimate the power of simply cleaning to reduce the risk of transmitting the flu and other deadly pathogens. Cleaning removes dirt, soil, and impurities that harbor germs and viruses like influenza. Just as important, remember cleaning is often a necessary first step in disinfecting a surface, which actually kills the remaining germs.
Get the guidance you need for solutions grounded in best practice to help you fight and prevent the flu and other infections in your facility.
1. Kramer A. BMC Infectious Diseases 2006;6:130
2. Cleaning Hospital Room Surfaces to Prevent Health Care–Associated Infections. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4812669/. Annals of Internal Medicine. October 2015.