Hand Hygiene – An Important Way to Beat COVID-19, the Flu, and Other Illnesses

If we have learned anything from our experience with COVID-19, we know that we are supposed to wash our hands.  Study after study shows that proper hand hygiene is the most critical thing we can do to prevent the spread of infection in education, healthcare, or any other field serving the public.  This is mainly in viral diseases, such as COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory maladies. Even gastrointestinal viruses like norovirus can be controlled through proper hand hygiene.  Beyond COVID-19, the stakes remain high as colds, the flu, and norovirus outbreaks result in millions of lost school and work days and costs the economy tens of billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, even during the pandemic, research shows that poor compliance to proper hand hygiene continues to be a significant obstacle to controlling these illnesses, even in the highly regulated healthcare field where healthcare-associated infections are a constant threat. For example, while over 50% of students wash their hands in schools, less than 20% use soap.  Men are also less likely to wash their hands properly – come on, guys, we need to get into the game.

Poor compliance can be attributed to several different factors we can control.  The condition of the restroom and the supplies provided throughout the facility can and does encourage people to help keep their hands in a more hygienic condition.  The following four considerations can summarize these key actions.

1.            Hand Care Products that Encourage Use

Get rid of the bulk soap dispensers.  There has been significant development in hand soap formulations that improve performance and reduce skin irritation. In addition, hand soaps from many manufacturers come in hygienically sealed cartridges, eliminating contamination.  These are the types of products people are looking for when washing their hands away from home.  Remember, the idea is to encourage hand hygiene and not look at the expenditure only as a cost.

2.            Convenient Dispenser Locations

There should be sufficient dispensers in the restroom to facilitate the hand washing process.  In addition, hand sanitizer dispensers should also be available throughout the building.  As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol hand sanitizer is effective against the SARS_CoV-2 coronavirus, as well as those pesky colds and flu viruses. It is a viable option for hand hygiene when hand washing isn’t an option.  However, as with hand soap in the restroom, empty hand sanitizer dispensers are a common complaint.  Dispensers need to be routinely checked and filled. 

3.            Access to Paper Towels and Facial Tissue

Simply put, most people like to dry their hands with paper towels, and most people don’t actually like hand dryers.  Paper towels provide for higher compliance, and the mere wiping of wet hands can remove bacteria and viruses through mechanical action.  But, just as with soap and sanitizer, empty dispensers discourage compliance.  Lastly, where practical, providing facial tissues is a great way to control cross-contamination from sneezes and runny noses. 

4.            Established Educational Programs

As with any behavior change, education is key. Every primary hand care and paper company can provide educational programs and materials appropriate for a wide range of audiences.  Whether it be elementary students, college campuses, or the workplace, tools are available to help promote effective hand hygiene.  Talk to your Imperial Dade sales consultant and find out if there is more that you can be doing to encourage this vital health and wellness behavior.

We’re here to help! Visit our website to find a branch near you.

Disinfection – Where do we go from here?

By John Thomas

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, one reality that has emerged is that as a nation we are now using more disinfectants, on more surfaces, and more frequently than ever before.  In addition, many of these surfaces were never designed or intended to be disinfected.  Plus, we’re applying the disinfectants through a whole new range of sprayer, fogging and misting systems, many of which weren’t even on the market 6 months ago.  Although the concern for COVID-19 is valid, we do need to be equally concerned about the possible health and environmental impact of the significantly increased exposure to these potent disinfectant chemistries.

As we move to the next, and hopefully final, stage of our battle against the SARS coronavirus, it is a good time to consider the implications of our disinfection practices and look at an emerging concept known as targeted hygiene.  Targeted hygiene fosters a balanced approach of preventing disease transmission with reducing over exposure of the environment to disinfectants and other microbial agents and potentially offers a sustainable strategy for the control of pathogenic microorganisms.

“It is a good time to consider the implications of our disinfection practices and look at an emerging concept known as targeted hygiene.”

During the COVID-19 health crisis, concerns with controlling the spread of disease has resulted in an extraordinary level of disinfection, be it through manual wipes or electrostatic sprayers.  While the cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces is an important component of an effective hygiene program, a risk assessment of possible disease exposure needs to be a part of the decision making process.  The following considerations can help assess risk levels and provide guidance in establishing the appropriate disinfection protocols.

Sites and Surfaces

Cleaning by manual wiping is generally sufficient for surfaces that in contact with a limited number of individuals.  Then as the number of people interacting with these surfaces increases, the addition of a daily or periodic disinfectant application is warranted.  Also, the surfaces themselves can make a big difference in the transmission of infection. Soft surfaces resist disinfection due to their very nature.  At best, we can only hope to achieve some level of sanitizing which is just a reduction of pathogens and again needs to be weighed against the real infection transmission exposure risk.  Variations in the behavior of the specific pathogen and their persistence in the environment plays a role in this analysis

Cleaning Versus Disinfecting

“Some facilities are attempting to disinfect as if they are in a constant state of outbreak which can potentially result is an overuse of disinfectants.”

During the current COVID-19 crisis, the CDC guidance on cleaning and disinfecting has always recommended a two level approach.  Basically, when the facility is free of active outbreaks in the facility is to continue to conduct routine cleaning and disinfection using the products typically used with attention being paid to surfaces not normally cleaned on a daily basis.  But, when there is an outbreak, or positive cases are identified, all potentially affected areas need to be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly with special attention to all frequently touched surfaces.  However, it has been our experience that some facilities are attempting to disinfect as if they are in a constant state of outbreak which can potentially result is an overuse of disinfectants.

Safety Precautions

Key to the safe use of any of these potent disinfectant chemicals is following the use instructions on the label which provides information on proper dilution, contact times, application methods, and first aid.  Many disinfectants do not have approved label instructions for application via electrostatic sprayers and/or foggers so it is important to get clear, written authorization from the chemical manufacturer prior to their use through these systems.  Furthermore, it is important to insure that proper personal protective equipment is employed during disinfection as there can be significant health hazards, especially where spraying or fogging is involved.

“At Imperial Dade, our corporate commitment to health and wellness allows us the opportunity to assist our customers in establishing targeted hygiene programs appropriate to their facilities and operations.”

Once the current COVID-19 health emergency is brought under control, thought will need to be given as to developing a sustainable approach to maintaining hygienic environments in our schools, healthcare institutions, restaurants, and office buildings.  At Imperial Dade, our corporate commitment to health and wellness allows us the opportunity to assist our customers in establishing targeted hygiene programs appropriate to their facilities and operations. 

Contact your local Imperial Dade sales consultant to learn more about the products, services and programs that are available. Visit us at our website for a location near you and request a consultation.

John Thomas, Director of Health & Wellness at Imperial Dade, earned a BS in Microbiology from Penn State University and began his career as a microbiologist in the food industry. He has taught high school chemistry and worked for a number of leading chemical companies before joining Imperial Dade. He holds a number of professional certifications including the CMIP (Certificate of Mastery in Infection Prevention) and has completed programs in epidemiology by APIC (Association of Professionals in Infection Control.)