With spring here, it may seem like flu season is over. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), substantial flu activity can occur as late as May, but reported flu activity is continuing to decline.
This season, influenza activity started about a month early and has been intense. Influenza-like illness rose quickly to well above the baseline of expected activity and remained elevated for 15 consecutive weeks, making this season slightly longer than average. Several schools across the country, including schools in Illinois and Oklahoma, made the decision to close because more than 20 percent of their students were ill with norovirus or the flu.
Keeping that in mind, school cleaning professionals should always be aware of important infection-prevention tips, which help to keep it from spreading to other students and staff:
- Choose the right products. Studies show influenza viruses can survive on surfaces for up to eight hours, so it is important to use products that are effective against them. Cleaning with soaps or detergents and water physically removes germs, but does not kill them. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. According to the CDC, several types of disinfectants are effective against the flu including chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and quaternary ammonium-based cleaners. No matter which product schools use, it is important to always read the product label to ensure that it is EPA-registered to kill the influenza A virus and norovirus.
- Disinfect high-touch surfaces often. Objects and surfaces that are touched frequently such as desks, countertops, doorknobs, keyboards, faucets and phones need to be disinfected at least once a day. Specific germ-prone areas such as school bathrooms also should be given more attention.
- Clean and disinfect regularly. School cleaning professionals can help prevent the spread of flu and norovirus in their building through routine cleaning and disinfecting. These infections can spread when people touch contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes, mouth or nose. Flu viruses are fairly easy to kill when using the appropriate disinfectants as part of the cleaning and disinfecting process. Norovirus however, is tougher to kill, as very few particles can cause infections and it is highly contagious. Always remove visible soil from surfaces, followed by targeted disinfecting.
- Educate cleaning staff and other school employees about the flu and norovirus.The CDC recommends that schools encourage employees to get a seasonal flu vaccine and discourage sick employees from coming to work. In addition, instruct employees to wash their hands regularly with soap and water especially after emptying waste baskets, touching used tissues or using the bathroom.
Kim LaFreniere is an associate research fellow at the Clorox Professional Products Company.