As the holidays fade, it’s back to work and school for the long winter months. The cold temperatures drive most indoors for the bulk of the day and night, creating a hotbed for all kinds of pathogens, from flu to C.diff to Strep. What can facility managers and homeowners do to keep the germs at bay?
People spend more time indoors in closed air systems where contaminated air is recycled and shared, providing both a breeding ground and a delivery route for airborne infections
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is a critical element of a healthy environment, especially during the winter months when windows and doors are likely kept tightly closed. While changing readily accessible filters is commonplace, pathogens can lodge anywhere across the ventilation system. Blowers, heat exchangers, return and supply ducts, registers and diffusers are magnets for mold, bacteria and other infectious contaminants. The operation of the ventilation system will constantly circulate airborne particles throughout the facility.
Air duct and HVAC systems should be inspected by NADCA-certified technicians who can identify any visible contaminants across the system, including the lengths of ductwork. This process typically requires the use of specialized cameras to reach all parts of the system.
Inspections should be a regular part of any facility maintenance schedule. Should an ongoing infectious outbreak occur, air duct cleaning and sanitation may be necessary.
The low humidity of winter allows airborne infections to spread more readily – and some to survive longer – than during the warmer, higher humidity months.
Although most expect that pathogens would thrive in the warmth of summer and die off in the dry, cold winter, the notion doesn’t hold true when you’re talking about indoor spaces. The warmth of the indoors prevents the kill-off, and the drier air actually helps contaminants circulate. Unburdened by the moisture of humid air, viruses can remain airborne longer, free to travel from one coughing person to another. It’s also believed that some viruses – including flu – simply survive longer in lower humidity.
Homeowners and facility managers can lessen the spread of infection by taking steps to control the building’s humidity. Even humidifiers placed in common areas can improve IAQ – just be sure to regularly change water and filters.
More indoor activity increases exposure to microbial contamination from surfaces and materials.
Sneezes and coughs aren’t the only way that infections make the rounds. In fact, hand-to-surface/hand-to-mouth is likely a more efficient way for pathogens to travel. One infected person can touch a counter, doorknob, faucet, keyboard, telephone – and share it with all of the lucky people to follow. Of course this is especially prevalent in schools and daycares, with children who aren’t able to control their sniffles and grabs. But it’s also a common means of transfer in the workplace and at home.
The fact is that most microbial pathogens can persist on surfaces long after initial contamination. C.Diff spores can live up to five months, and E. coli as long as six. And the list goes on: Listeria, four months; Streptococcus pneumoniae, 20 days. And MRSA? Seven months.
Regular cleaning and disinfection with appropriate detergents and disinfectants is a critical element of facility hygiene, as is monitoring to measure efficacy. Should an outbreak occur, professional decontamination and disinfection efforts may be needed to mitigate biohazard threats from the facility, furnishings and equipment.
Of course, infection control is a year-round endeavor for any school, workplace or home. Making some additional efforts in the colder months, though, can make the long, slow winter a little bit easier to endure. Spring is right around the corner!
ICT: First in Infection Control and Biological Decontamination. Infection Control Technologies, (ICT) a division of Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. (IRS) is one of the nation’s leading Building Hygiene contractors. ICT provides Facility Hygiene Services and Emergency Decontamination for some of the nation’s most respected real estate and Risk Management Professionals, Health Care, Municipalities, Institutions, Food Safety, Transportation, and government organizations.