Concern over the spread of the H1N1 flu virus has prompted many schools and universities to make sure the right cleaning and maintenance efforts are in place to combat the illness.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention has released new guidance to help decrease the spread of flu among students.
Hand hygiene is critical to preventing the spread of flu viruses, the CDC says. The center recommends that school officials encourage students and staff to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.
"Schools should provide the time needed for all students and staff to wash their hands whenever necessary, especially after coughing or sneezing into hands, before eating, and after using the restroom," the CDC says. "Soap, paper towels and sanitizers are critical for proper hand hygiene and should be readily available in schools."
The center says that alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective at killing flu germs, but some schools may not allow them. "Other hand sanitizers that do not contain alcohol may be useful," the CDC says, "however, there is less evidence on their effectiveness."
The CDC urges schools to regularly clean all areas and items that are more likely to have frequent hand contact (for example, keyboards or desks) and also clean these areas immediately when visibly soiled.
"Schools should ensure that custodial staff and others (such as classroom teachers) who use cleaners or disinfectants read and understand all instruction labels and understand safe and appropriate use," the CDC says. "CDC does not believe any additional disinfection of environmental surfaces beyond the recommended routine cleaning is required."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has compiled a list of more than 500 EPA-registered antimicrobial products that are effective in disinfecting hard, non-porous surfaces that may be contaminated with the 2009-H1N1 flu. It can be found at www.epa.gov/oppad001/influenza-disinfectants.html.
At Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., the school's Cleaning Advisory Team has compiled a guide for enhanced cleaning procedures on campus. It recommends that school maintenance operations have at least a two-month supply of:
EPA-registered disinfectants and cleaners.
Hand soap products for dispensing systems.
Alcohol-based sanitizing products.
Disposable nitrile or latex gloves (two pair per day per employee).
Surgical or dust masks (two per day per employee).
Workers should wear their assigned uniforms and launder them daily. They should use disposable gloves when carrying out cleaning procedures; when cleaning around persons identified as ill, they should wear surgical or dust masks.
The guide also spells out cleaning procedures for two types of spaces: facilities where known ill persons are or have recently been present; and locations where ill persons are residing or receiving care.
In the first scenario, a facility should have instant sanitizing products available in areas where hand soap and water are not readily available. In areas where sick persons are residing or receiving care, workers should disinfect all reachable building surfaces.
In either type of space, the custodial staff may have to reduce the frequency of non-health-related cleaning tasks to carry out the enhanced cleaning steps.