Keeping clean hands clean with a documented surface cleanliness system.
H1N1 has moved quickly around the world earning the designation of pandemic. Clean hands are once again the primary protection as North America braces for outbreaks in schools and the many away-from-home environments.
An effective defense against H1N1 starts with an assessment of your facility and the people who use it. Everything learned in fighting norovirus applies although keeping ill employees off the premises is considerably easier than keeping ill customers away.
While H1N1 is a respiratory disease, studies and experience have shown that donning masks outside healthcare settings offers little protection against direct airborne transmission. The Society of Healthcare Epidemiologists, the Infectious Disease Society and the World Health Organization recommend precautions based on transmission by droplet infection rather than airborne infection. In other words, this virus is transmitted more from surfaces and hands than directly via the air.
Aside from keeping your distance, which isn’t always viable, what can you do to lower the risk of H1N1 transmission among your employees and customers?
As the H1N1 virus is contagious beginning 1 day prior to the onset of symptoms, the following precautions are imperative each and everyday, whether or not you see signs of illness:
1. Cough and sneeze into your sleeve or elbow, not into the air or your hand. As heavier virus particles released orally are deposited on hands and inanimate surfaces, the virus is transferred via an unsuspecting touch, and the chain of contamination continues.
2. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water, and dry using a disposable paper towel.
3. Use alcohol hand sanitizers containing at least 65% alcohol where water is notreadily accessible. For added protection, use the SaniTwice protocol , which adds a hand-cleansing step to regular alcohol hand sanitizers. A disposable paper towel adds friction and absorbency to make up for the lack of water.
4. For those serving the public, consider locating a synergized alcohol hand sanitizer at the customer entry point. This category of product kills H1N1 as well as human norovirus, both of which are introduced by the public and spread touch by touch.
5. Monitoring of surface cleanliness should be intensified in situations where the risk of H1N1 is high. ATP Luminometers can be a major help in assuring the cleaning staff that their efforts are effective.
6. Employees should be sent home and stay home, away from the public if they exhibit flu-like symptoms (sore throat, coughing, sneezing, fever, vomiting or diarrhea). They should seek the advice of their doctor or clinic and not return to work for 7 days or after 24 hours without symptomsor fever.
7. Consider requiring an H1N1 flu vaccination in addition to a seasonal flu shot.
Most importantly: Hand washing, hand sanitizing and frequent surface cleaning are the primary interventions to help stop the spread of this virus.