According to the Centers for Disease Control, we can count on anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of the people in the US to come down with the flu. The annual flu season costs US workers around 111 million in lost days from work. Those lost days add up to around $7 Billion for employers. Both the flu and the common cold are spread by direct or indirect contact and as a business owner, you can help stop both of these seasonal illnesses at your front door.  In this blog, we discuss how the flu and common cold are spread and what you can do about them as you try to keep your workforce healthy.
Understanding How the Flu and Common Cold are Spread
Both the common cold and flu are spread by personal contact and indirect contact. In a work environment personal contact occurs often – a simple handshake is enough to transmit a virus from one person to another. Other forms of contact such as hugging are also key acts that spread the common cold and flu.
Indirect contact is perhaps the most common way that the common cold and flu spread among workers. That is because of the number of surfaces that most employees touch – Door handles, buttons on vending machines, the water dispenser’s tabs, or the faucets in the bathroom. Even the buttons that open the elevator can spread disease.
Given all those opportunities to spread from one person to the next, is it any wonder that so many workers come down with the flu each year?
Why Do Some People Not Get the Flu?
There are a few reasons why some people do not catch the flu when it is going around the work environment. One is a flu vaccine – whether you approve or don’t – this is an option. Another is good hygiene and the best hygiene to practice is proper handwashing. The CDC has a great how-to guide for proper handwashing. It is also important not to touch your face or nose without first washing your hands. The reason is that the bacteria and germs on our hands can gain entry into the body and bloodstream through the mucose membranes around our nose, eyes, and mouth. Use of antimicrobial products, such as hand gels can also help to reduce the chance of exposure.
How Cleaning Plays a Critical Role in the Prevention
Of course, there is also cleaning and while many businesses do a good job of cleaning their employees might still get sick. The reason is that not all cleaners are able to kill and remove all virus, bacteria, and fungi. Here is a closer look at why that is a true statement.
A Lesson from Healthcare and Hospital Related Diseases
Nosocomial infections are illnesses and diseases that people acquire at a hospital. Hospitals are common places for pathogens higher concentrations of different pathogens to accumulate. Despite medical-grade cleaners, nosocomial infections remain. Part of the reason for that is that bacteria and virus evolve quickly. We’ve all heard of medically resistant bacteria and virus – those germs that do not respond to antibiotics. Businesses are much like hospitals. Without advanced cleaning techniques, simply cleaning does not remove the germs. It is not so much that the cleaning crew is not doing a good job, but that the germs have changed. A keyword to remember is encapsulation.
Encapsulation is the encasement – surrounding of – a virus by a special coating that resists chemicals. If the medication cannot get to the bacteria then it cannot kill it. If a cleaning solution cannot get to a germ it cannot kill it or remove it. The goo that bacteria and virus use to encapsulate themselves is sticky and it allows them to adhere to a surface – even when the surface is cleaned thoroughly. This is one of the reasons why nosocomial infections are so high at hospitals. It is also another reason why so many American workers come down with the flu or cold during the flu and cold season.
The takeaway here is that it is important how the cleaning crew go about cleaning a business, what kinds of chemicals they use, and the frequency in which they clean. Those three factors can be the difference between a healthy building and one that is a haven for flu and cold germs. The encapsulated goo sticks to people’s hands and the virus are then acquired when we touch our nose or mouth or when we rub our eyes. What happens when we sneeze? We cup our hands around our nose. That simple act is enough to spread cold and flu viruses either from our hands to our face or from our nose and lungs to our hands.
Cleaning Chemicals that Fight Germs
The primary focus of flu and cold prevention is all about surfaces – from the lunch table to the handles on phones and doors, to the faucets in the bathrooms – Even the buttons on the elevator. If the cleaning chemicals that your team uses are not strong enough or designed to remove the encapsulated goo that holds viruses in place, then your business is not clean. This does not necessarily mean that the chemical has to be dangerously strong – rather, it means that the chemical must be designed to deal with encapsulation. There are examples of green chemicals that do the job just fine. In short, the chemicals must be smart rather than strong.
Smart chemicals do the job quickly by removing the encapsulation material and allowing the cleansing agent to kill the virus and bacteria that hide inside of the encapsulated casing. When that process works then the surface is easily cleaned and the risk of infection drops. You do not need special tools, just smart chemicals.
One of the key ways that cold and flu virus are spread by coughing, which allows the germs to become airborne and then land on surfaces throughout the business. They also spread when we touch things after coughing into our hands or sneezing. All of the surfaces that many people touch in a day are prime targets for spreading cold and flu viruses. This is why surfaces, not just horizontal surfaces must be cleaned regularly, efficiently, and with smart chemicals.
What You Can Do to Reduce Infection
We already know that the financial burden that businesses payout each year because of the flu and common cold is staggering. Your business’s portion of that massive sum need not be as high as it has been if you approach cleaning with smart tech, smart chemicals, and adequate frequency.
Here is our short list of how to reduce the damage that flu and cold season brings to your business and your team.
- Step 1: Use Chemicals that adequately clean surfaces and that are approved to reduce encapsulated germs.
- Step 2: Make sure that the buildings cleaning frequency is high enough so that the risk of exposure does not carry over from one day to the next.
- Step 3: Make sure employees are educated on how to properly wash their hands and why handwashing is important
- Step 4: Encourage the use of antimicrobial gels as needed.
- Step 5: Make sure that physical contact between employees is reduced and appropriate.
- Step 6: Consider a sick policy that supports staying home when an employee has a cold or the flu.
- Step 7: Engage your team to use these (those that are appropriate) outside of work, such as on the bus or subway.
If you’d like to learn more about how to reduce the risk of contact contamination of flu and cold germs by your team, just reach out to our team at Advanced Chemical Solutions at 406-252-7408 with all of your questions or for additional material. We will ensure you have all the right products to keep both employees and customers healthy this season.
 Influenza (flu) in the Workplace– CDC
Hand Washing Guide – CDC