Top tips for cold and flu prevention

14th of January 2015
Top tips for cold and flu prevention

It's typically challenging to make it through this time of year without catching a cold or the flu. Since there are approximately 200 viruses that can cause the common cold, millions of people are affected, usually several times throughout the year. Those with the flu can also infect others beginning between one and four days before their symptoms develop.

In addition to making people feel ill, cold and flu outbreaks can result in lost productivity and may negatively affect a business's reputation if these outbreaks occur frequently or on a large scale. Facilities can prepare for periods of heightened outbreaks by implementing cleaning and disinfection best practices. Doing so will keep staff, students, patients and guests safe and healthy and reduce unnecessary absences and lost revenue.

Hans de Ridder, global marketing director, fabric care, infection prevention and personal care at Sealed Air's Diversey Care, has compiled a list of infection prevention tips to reduce the spread of cold and flu.

Just as a person may look healthy but be sick, a surface can look clean but still house a significant amount of pathogens. A single sneeze alone can release 40,000 droplets, which can travel through the air and land on a variety of surfaces. Some pathogens can survive on surfaces for days, and even months, making the environment a risk in the transmission of cold, flu and many other illnesses. Pathogens can be transferred when a person contacts these dirty surfaces directly, or indirectly when someone touches a person who has these pathogens present on their hands.

The spread of flu is unpredictable so prevention and management must be considered a healthcare priority in preparing for the next high incidence flu season, with a particular focus on clinical risk groups such the elderly, very young and pregnant women. To reduce the spread of the cold and flu, facilities can practice and promote infection prevention tips, including:

Promote proper hand hygiene:
Unfortunately, not everyone follows basic hand hygiene measures. Hands can easily spread germs from one person to another, or to other surfaces, so facilities should encourage everyone to get in the habit of regularly washing and sanitising hands. When hands are dirty, individuals should wash with hot water and soap or with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available.

Encourage influenza vaccinations:
Flu cases typically spike in January and February. Although getting the influenza vaccine doesn't guarantee a person won't contract the flu, it provides protection against some cases. Providing or requiring employee vaccinations gives individuals a barrier against influenza viruses that match or are related to the viruses in the vaccine.

Educate staff on proper cleaning procedures
Facilities should ensure cleaning procedures are in place that detail what surfaces and equipment are to be cleaned and the order in which cleaning should occur. These procedures should also describe when to perform hand hygiene, when glove use is required, the cleaners, disinfectants and tools to use and the appropriate frequency of cleaning and disinfection.

During times such as flu season when illnesses are acquired and spread more frequently, it's recommended that facilities clean and disinfect more often and more thoroughly. This may require changing the traditional cleaning schedule to a more frequent cleaning schedule of all common areas or assigning additional employees to cleaning and disinfection tasks.

Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces:
Even if hand hygiene was more commonly practiced, there is still the risk that hands can become re-contaminated by touching contaminated surfaces. High-touch surfaces such as door knobs, handrails, elevator buttons, desks and countertops should be disinfected regularly or when visibly soiled. Employees should clean from high to low, from cleanest to dirtiest and from dry to wet and ensure that the disinfectant is left on the surface for the appropriate dwell time.

Highlight proper illness etiquette:
To further prevent the spread of the cold and flu, facilities should encourage proper etiquette among sick employees, occupants and visitors. This includes limiting contact with others and high-touch surfaces, covering the mouth when coughing and sneezing and disposing of used tissues and paper towels. Facilities can remind people to practice these behaviours by placing signs and other communication materials in high-traffic areas such as reception areas and bathrooms.

Ensure supplies are well stocked:
In some cases, people encounter a restroom without soap or paper towels, forcing them to compromise or forgo their hygiene habits. Facilities should stock additional supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectants, hand hygiene products, facial tissue, toilet tissue, trash bags and cleaning cloths and tools. This will encourage ongoing compliance with infection prevention strategies.

Establish compliance monitoring:
Compliance monitoring can help a facility ensure that workers are performing tasks as expected and can help identify areas for improvement. Facilities may want to keep track of handwashing and sanitising habits through automated hand hygiene monitoring and compliance reporting. Fluorescent markers can be used to measure surface cleanliness rates and highlight areas that are not ignored or only partially cleaned. Organisations can also track PPE usage to ensure employees are wearing the proper protection when it is required or recommended.

As hard as people try to avoid illness, it can be nearly impossible to keep germs at bay if the places they frequent are not practicing proper cleaning and disinfection. Every facility, from office buildings, airports and hotels to restaurants, schools and hospitals has a responsibility to protect staff, visitors, students and patients.

During cold and flu season, it's even more important to have a sound infection prevention strategy in place. If organisations follow a set of best practices, they can not only reduce the frequency of outbreaks but limit the impact of those that do occur.

Hans de Ridder can be reached at



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