Health Watch: Minimize your exposure to the flu
With flu season approaching, parents may be bracing for an outbreak at their children’s schools, but adults are also highly susceptible at work and in other public places. Now is the time for families and businesses to take steps to prevent and protect against the flu.
With workers missing as much as a week after falling ill with the flu, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attributes as much as $7 billion in losses for U.S. businesses each year as a result of workers’ sick days and lost productivity. Combine that with lost wages, missed school and sporting events, and the overall hit to your personal health, and the toll is higher yet.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations each year depending upon the severity of the flu season. People at high risk for developing flu-related complications include children under 5, adults 65 or older, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes and other long-term care centers, and people who have medical conditions such as asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease and blood disorders.
“Influenza is a serious viral infection, and the toll on public health each year related to influenza is significant,” said Dr. John Hanlin, vice president of public health and food safety at Ecolab. “Fortunately, there are a number of important measures that you, your family and your business colleagues can take to reduce the risk of influenza.”
Getting a flu vaccine and taking anti-viral medications as prescribed if you do contract the flu are two ways the CDC advocates stopping the spread of flu germs. Another vital factor in protecting yourself from the flu is preventing its spread.
The flu is a respiratory infection accompanied by fever and often respiratory complications that is transmitted from person to person, either through personal contact, or through contact with a contaminated surface. Individuals who have contracted the virus are contagious at least one day before displaying symptoms, and up to seven days after they first appear.
In addition, the flu virus can survive up to 48 hours on stainless steel and plastic surfaces, and up to 12 hours on cloth, paper and tissues. Properly cleaning and disinfecting can minimize the chances of individuals contracting the virus from a contaminated surface.
To properly clean, disinfect and protect your environment, know that you should:
* Clean any visible soil from surfaces before disinfecting. When cleaning and disinfecting, work from top to bottom and from cleaner to more heavily soiled surfaces.
* Thoroughly wet the surface with a U.S. EPA registered disinfectant and follow label instructions. Choose disinfectants effective against the flu virus, such as Ecolab’s line of disinfectant products, which are available for institutional and industrial use.
* Disinfect frequently touched hard surfaces often, including tables, chairs, light switches, door handles and restroom facilities.
* Give special attention to frequently touched surfaces in food preparation areas, as well as the restroom, including light and air control switches, faucets, toilet flush levers, door knobs and handrails.
* Avoid touching public items that sustain heavy use, such as elevator buttons and push plates on doors, with your hands.
Proper hand hygiene
Hand-washing is also essential to preventing an influenza contamination. Proper hand-washing helps remove most bacteria, viruses and other pathogens, so they can’t be spread to others. The CDC recommends these steps:
* Wet hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
* Rub hands together to lather the soap. Clean the backs of hands, between fingers and under nails.
* Scrub for at least 20 seconds.
* Rinse well under clean, running water.
* Dry with a clean towel or air dry.
* Before using hand sanitizer, remove any dirt from hands with soap and water. Apply product to palm and rub hands together until it disappears (15-20 seconds).
Education is the first step in promoting effective hand hygiene. But the real challenge is motivating others to wash frequently and follow protocols day in and day out.
* Use soaps that are gentle on hands. Formulations that irritate skin may dissuade even the most dedicated hand-washer.
* Be a role model and wash your hands following the same high standard you set for your family and coworkers.
* Continuously reinforce that protection starts with prevention, and hand-washing is critical to prevention.
Extra care in the kitchen
Because flu and cold viruses can spread easily to foods and beverages, it’s especially important to promote hand-washing in the kitchen. The Food and Drug Administration suggests:
* Plan food preparation activities to reduce the number of times hands need to be washed.
* Use soap and water, which is more effective in removing foodborne pathogens than hand sanitizers.