Winter is coming. And that means there’s going to be a peak in illnesses such as Norovirus and Influenza. It happens every year and it’s easy to predict. But it’s also easy to protect yourself and those around you with some simple cleaning and hygiene tips. At Diversey, our annual “Are You Ready?” campaign is designed to offer help and guidance to minimise the risks from these and other common illnesses.
Norovirus (sometimes called Winter Vomiting Disease) is unpleasant at the best of times. It causes considerable and sudden discomfort to anyone unfortunate to suffer it, with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhoea, although most people will recover after a few days. Influenza (“the Flu”) can be more serious. Anyone with a weakened immune system – children, the elderly, people with an underlying health condition- can be at risk of severe consequences, including death.
Both illnesses are present all year round but statistics show that they peak during winter. Evidence suggests that viruses like these are more stable in cold air, so they can survive for longer and have more chance to infect someone new. The lower humidity associated with cooler temperatures also means that tiny water droplets containing the virus and produced by coughs or sneezes can remain airborne for longer, giving them more time contaminate a surface or be breathed in by someone.
On top of this, we all spend more time indoors during Winter because it’s cold or because we are attending parties or family get-togethers over the holiday season. That means there is more chance for viruses to pass from person to person or by touching contaminated surfaces.
Particular industries and sectors are at an increased risk from the effects of Norovirus and Influenza, including:
Schools/Colleges: children, especially the very young, are among the groups most vulnerable to Norovirus and Influenza. During winter, in particular, pupils will be indoors more and closer together so there is more chance of illnesses spreading. Schools, of course, want to ensure a safe environment for pupils and staff. But they also need to achieve high attendance records so that nobody misses vital lessons or falls behind. Our “Are You Ready?” campaign helps schools implement simple but effective processes to keep children and staff safe.
Care Homes: residents are, by definition, among the most vulnerable in society. Illnesses such as Norovirus and Influenza can be even more serious for the weak and frail than for those fortunate to have good health. Our “Are You Ready?” campaign offers advice and guidance to help homes protect their residents and give the best possible care.
Restaurants: it’s party season and restaurants and hospitality venues are doing a lot of business. Nobody wants their customers to get ill but any outbreak also poses the risk of bad publicity and lost business. Nor do restaurants want their staff to be off sick because it disrupts ongoing operations and places extra burdens on remaining employees during one of the busiest times of the year. Our “Are You Ready?” campaign helps restaurants and hospitality venues to minimise the risk of infections and make the most of their most important season.
Many people receive an annual flu jab to protect against this terrible illness. In addition to protecting the individual, immunisation also prevents the virus from spreading because it breaks the chain of infection, giving it fewer opportunities to pass on to new victims. However, there is no injection to protect against Norovirus.
But as with most illnesses, Norovirus and Influenza are usually spread through personal contact or by touching a contaminated surface. That’s why all infection prevention advice focuses on a combination of hand hygiene and surface disinfection. We’ll be going into more detail in later “Are You Ready?” blogs to help make sure You Are Ready.
Hand hygiene product availability is essential for any infection prevention programme to work properly. It means that people can clean or disinfect their hands whenever they need to in line with agreed procedures and protocols.
Regular checks of product levels in dispensers followed up by quick and simple refills make it easier to maintain product availability. But in even the best organised and executed programmes it is still possible to miss when a dispenser is running low or – even worse still – has run completely out of product. Diversey’s IntelliCare system helps to minimise this risk because a red light flashes on the front of the unit when product levels are running low.
Although there is no substitute for regular checks, these flashing IntelliCare alerts provide an additional safeguard by giving a clear and unambiguous warning that product will soon become unavailable. That should leave those responsible for the dispensers with enough time to respond and replace a soon-to-be-empty pouch before it prevent people from cleaning or disinfecting their hands.
Initiatives such as the World Health Organisation’s “Five Moments of Hand Hygiene” have helped to instill discipline and reduce infection rates at healthcare facilities around the world.
Healthcare professionals and infection prevention specialists understand that hand hygiene is central to their efforts to protect patients and prevent unnecessary illnesses. Facilities have developed robust protocals and processes geared to minimise the risk of infections by improving hand hygiene compliance.
In any given setting, the number of patients or residents will be known, as will the number of members of staff and visitors. Although these may fluctuate during the day there will rarely be massive peaks or troughs. From this – bearing in mind when hand disinfection is recommended – it should be possible to estimate the total number of times that hand hygiene should be needed on average during any given period (day, week, month etc).
This information can be compared with hand hygiene product usage to assess how well everyone is complying with recommended procedures. Until recently the amount of product consumed was the only practical way to do this. Dispensers will dispense a reasonably consistent amount during each activation so it is possible to estimate the number of uses by dividing this amount into the total volume used.
The latest generation of dispensers – such as Diverseys’s IntelliCare system – take some of the guesswork from this because they maintain an accurate count of total activations.
However the estimates are made the issue is not necessarily to collect an accurate count for any given period but to look for trends, peaks and troughs. A trend showing rising use would suggest that facility users are cleaning their hands more frequently. The opposite of course is also true and a falling trend can be one of the first signs of non-compliance. Those responsible for infection prevention can use this information to respond with additional training or awareness programmes to promote better and more consistent hand hygiene.
Peaks and troughs that fall outside long-term averages can be caused by a number of factors, including special circumstances, equipment failure or some other interruption to product availability. While these causes are more likely to be apparent to those on the ground they could also indicate an underlying systemic problem such as poor equipment design, maintenance and reliability issues, or inefficient product checks and refills. In each case, the information collected by the dispenser can be a useful metric when trying to indentify the cause and suitable remedy.
Diversey’s IntelliCare system goes further because its Internet of Clean capabilities allow managers to collect and collate information from all connected dispensers. They can use this information to compare the performnance of each unit with others in similar locations or the average of the installed base to identify various patterns and averages.
Maintaining product availability is one of the basic enablers of any hand hygiene and infection prevention regime. Anything which disrupts the availability of product will prevent users from cleaning or disinfecting their hands properly at the right times. That can lead to an increased risk of infection because most illnesses are transmitted by hand to hand contact or by touching a contaminated surface.
Hand cleansers and disinfectants are made available in most settings in wall mounted dispensers at convenient locations by the intended point of use. In hospitals, for example, this will include by entrances to main buildings, wards, treatment areas, consulting rooms as so on as well as in public spaces and washrooms.
Each use of the dispenser will deposit a fixed amount of product onto the user’s hands. Depending on the location and frequency of use this will mean that the dispenser will become empty at regular intervals. Those responsible for the dispensers will want to ensure they are refilled before this happens and regular checks will be part of their hourly or daily routine.
It follows that a larger pack of the same product should, all other things being equal, last longer between refills. While this should not negate the need for regular checks to ensure product is available, it should mean that there are fewer opportunities for the dispenser to become empty unnoticed. In other words, larger packs help to maintain product availability. Of course, the aim is always to avoid empty dispensers but the larger packs also reduce the total amount of time taken for refills.
For example, increasing the container size from 800 to 1200ml should mean that the dispenser lasts for 50% longer between refills (assuming the same amount of product is dispensed dring each use). This means that the dispenser needs to be refilled 33% fewer times during any given period. In other words, the risk of product becoming unavailable and the time consumed by managing refills are also reduced by 33%. That’s time that can be used for other important patient- or customer-facing tasks.
This was the concept behind Diversey’s new IntelliCare hand hygiene system. Products are supplied in 1200ml pouches instead of the 800ml size used in previous-generation systems. Diversey simplified the system because the design of the pouches and dispenser allow the product level to be viewed through a transparent window on the front of the unit. This allows a quick visual check whenever someone walks past the dispenser, effectively reducing the time needed to confirm that product is available to zero.
Nothing replaces the discipline of regular checks but Diversey went further with the advanced design of the IntelliCare system: the unit issues a warning whenever product is getting low so that the almost-empty pouch can be replaced with a full one. The fast-change and closed-loop design ensures the entire process can be completed in a few seconds to minimise disruption to ongoing tasks.
Cleaning and hygiene continue to play a central role in the fight against healthcare associated infections (HAIs). These infections, particularly those caused by multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs), represent a significant impact on patient morbidity and mortality and increase the financial burden on healthcare systems. Contaminated environmental surfaces have been shown to be an important source for transmission of HAIs, particularly through touch and subsequent personal contact[i].
Effective cleaning and disinfection can decrease environmental pathogens, reducing the risk of infections, but hospital environments are complex, which can often result in cleaning that is inadequate. Suppliers continue to develop innovations that offer healthcare cleaning teams wider choice to implement the most effective solution to meet infection prevention targets.
One of the techniques that is growing in popularity is the use of UV-C disinfection as an adjunct technology to complement and enhance the effectiveness of manual disinfection processes, particularly in hospital settings where HAIs are of major concern.
UV-C has long been proven as an effective technology to reduce contamination and the potential for infection. This short-wavelength ultraviolet light kills or inactivates microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, leaving them unable to perform vital cellular functions. It can disinfect surfaces quickly and effectively[ii]. Deploying UV-C alongside traditional disinfectants reduced HAIs by 33%.[iii], according to one recent paper. At least 40 scientific studies measure its biocidal effect on micro-organisms or the impact on HAI rates. There is also much less chance of pathogens developing any form of resistance because UV-C disinfection is a physical rather than chemical process.
UV-C provides additional assurance that frequent-touch and hard-to-clean surfaces have been disinfected. It represents a hands-, chemical- and fume-free way to implement safer disinfection. There are many UV-C devices offered in the market with varying designs. The latest developments make the process simpler to utilise and more practical in real-life settings.
Since UV-C disinfection involves light waves, it is important to ensure light sources are parallel to the surfaces most likely to be contaminated or frequently touched in a patient environment. Several studies have shown that the power and speed of UV-C disinfection can be impacted by distance and angle. The strength of the UV-C light decreases the further away it gets from the light source, following the inverse square law. Because of this, the design of the UV-C device can impact the strength of dose applied to surfaces, impacting the level and speed of disinfection.
Systems delivering UV-C must therefore ensure the maximum amount hits the target surface to give the most powerful disinfection. One way to achieve this is to mount the UV-C sources on arms that can be positioned independently and pointed towards and set as close as possible to the target surfaces. This ensures more of the UV-C produced will hit the surface at right angles and at the minimum distance to give the best disinfection.
Despite the advantages of UV-C, few cost-effective practical systems were until recently available for routine use in healthcare settings[iv]. The latest devices now produce powerful UV-C light at the optimum wavelengths to provide fast broad-spectrum disinfection in as little as three minutes. This is more than twice as fast as fogging and almost twice as effective as traditional cleaning and disinfection alone in destroying the pathogens that cause healthcare associated infections.
There are other practical advantages of UV-C technologies. With fogging, for example, areas must be taken out of commission to allow equipment which is often large and cumbersome to be installed. This typically takes far longer than the disinfection time. Afterwards, the equipment must be removed and the area allowed to dry before it can be used. With UV-C, the equipment is simply wheeled in, used and removed within a matter of minutes. That makes it a viable option for disinfection in busy and high throughput settings with little or no impact on room availability. This means the technology can be used throughout a hospital, including patient rooms, operating rooms and bathrooms. Such systems can also be used on patient care equipment, fixtures, keyboards, monitors, and workstations.
While innovative technologies such as UV-C offer new approaches to infection prevention, the healthcare sector continues to evolve its understanding of the relationship between infection rates, surface disinfection and hand hygiene. One of the newest ideas in this area builds on the concept of the five moments of hand hygiene that is widely understood and employed in healthcare settings.
Studies suggest that somewhere between 20 and 40 per cent of HAIs arise when a healthcare worker passes on pathogens from one patient to the next. Pathogens can also be deposited on frequent touch surfaces and survive for extended periods, sometimes months, allowing them to be touched and passed on to other patients. There is a higher risk of acquiring certain pathogens if a room was previously occupied by a colonised or infected patient. All of this helps explain why effective hand hygiene and surface disinfection are important when aiming to prevent infections.
However, there is a growing realisation that even with high levels of compliance, the tried and tested methodologies could be improved. Rigorous daily cleaning of all surfaces, but especially those that are likely to be touched by patients or staff, is essential. But in many settings, some of those surfaces are more likely than others to be touched by multiple people throughout the day. Under those circumstances the idea of a once-a-day disinfection could be inadequate and put patients and staff at increased risk. In reality, studies show that with various people coming into a patient’s room during a normal day, a bed rail could be touched around 250 times by nurses, medical staff, clinical and non-clinical staff, and visitors.
The latest thinking is to adopt a more targeted approach. All areas are cleaned and disinfected daily, as before, but additional attention and focus is paid to frequent touch and high-risk surfaces. In practice, this means items such as bed rails, table-tops and light switches are cleaned much more often. Going further, studies suggest that additional disinfection at the point of care (where three elements come together: patient, healthcare worker and care or treatment involving contact with the patient or their surroundings) will help reduce infection rates. This can be distilled into five critical points:
Before placing a food/drink on an over-bed table
After any procedure involving faeces or respiratory secretions within the patient bed space
Before/after any aseptic practice (wounds, lines, etc.)
After patient bathing (within bed space)
After any object used by/on a patient touches the floor
The idea is in effect to disinfect on demand and clean hands and disinfect surfaces before and after each of these critical moments. Put another way, it is everyone’s job to disinfect, but it is not everyone’s job to disinfect everything every time. However, to be effective these processes must be simple and accessible so that they can be completed whenever needed. They must also be acceptable to healthcare workers and visitors, for example the products used should be non-hazardous and non-irritating. Finally, processes must be fast because anything that adds time or becomes a burden is less likely to be done.
With hand hygiene and surface disinfection critical to these new as well as traditional approaches it follows that there will be innovations in these areas too.
The best healthcare sites globally have reduced their infection rates to around five per cent through diligence and a rigorous application of best practice. In the UK the average infection rate is nearer to ten per cent.
The World Health Organisation promotes hand hygiene through a number of high-profile initiatives. Its annual Clean Your Hands Day, for example, was established in 2005 and has been a global success. This and related WHO programmes are based around the concept of a multimodal hand hygiene improvement strategy. This incorporates five components or building blocks including system change, training, evaluation, awareness and an institutional safety climate that lead to long-term and sustainable improvements. This framework is complemented by the WHO’s focus on the five moments of hand hygiene – the critical times when healthcare professionals should wash their hands: before touching a patient; before a procedure; after body fluid exposure; after touching a patient; after touching patient surroundings.
These recommendations can mean a lot of washing during a normal day. This is not only time-consuming but conventional soaps can strip natural oils which protect the skin, leading to an increased risk of damage through conditions such as dermatitis. Under these circumstances it is sensible to use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that kills pathogens faster than soap without removing protective oils.
Whatever products are chosen, they must be available and ready to use whenever required. Dispensers should be situated conveniently to encourage regular and proper use. At the same time, they should ideally contain enough product to prolong the interval between refills and therefore minimise the risk of outages and reduce necessary restocking burdens.
Another way to encourage compliance is to monitor usage. While it is rarely desirable to monitor individuals, it is helpful to know how often a particular dispenser has been used and how much product has been consumed. Knowing how many times a dispenser has been used and comparing this with the number of patient contacts by the clinical and nursing team should give a reasonable indication of whether they are complying with agreed standards. If not, additional awareness and training can be provided and the subsequent change in usage patterns assessed.
Surface disinfection is another critical aspect of infection prevention and it is vital to choose the right products. Healthcare cleaning professionals have traditionally selected disinfectants with chlorine as the active ingredient (usually as bleaches) for cleaning hard surfaces.
While widely used, the drawbacks of these formulations in terms of effectiveness and safety are well known. Alternative formulations with Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide (AHP) as the active ingredient offer numerous advantages with few limitations[v] and their use is growing in popularity.
The key requirement from any disinfectant in healthcare settings is efficacy – to prevent the introduction of potentially harmful pathogens and infections. These can range from hospital associated infections such as MRSA and C. diff to infections common in any setting, such as influenza and Norovirus. Effective surface disinfection is especially important in healthcare because patients are likely to be frail and vulnerable.
It is important to select disinfectants capable of killing pathogens of concern. Problem pathogens, such as norovirus and C. diff., might not be killed by conventional disinfectants. Contact times must be realistically short so that any pathogens are killed before the surface dries.
Disinfectants containing AHP are highly effective against a wide range of viruses, spores, yeasts, and fungi found in healthcare, including C. diff, MRSA, Norovirus, E. coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This broad-spectrum efficacy has been tested to the latest EN standards and submitted into the Biocidal Products Regulations (BPR) – a standard which all actives and disinfectants need to pass. AHP simplifies processes because just one product is needed – using numerous alternative products to provide the same level of performance adds unwanted complexity.
Products containing AHP can be supplied in ready-to-use and ultra-concentrate formats. They can be used at different dilution rates for various applications from daily cleaning to terminal disinfection to offer the right combination of efficacy and economy. Depending on the specific formulation, these products are effective against viruses, spores (including C. diff), yeasts and fungi in one minute or less, meeting demand for highly effective products with shorter contact or dwell times.
Traditional products containing chlorine are generally not as effective on spores and require significantly longer contact times. Products containing AHP have been tested and shown to kill viruses such as Norovirus in up to 30 seconds and the most persistent spores such as C. diff in one minute. Products containing AHP offer additional benefits that simplify day-to-day cleaning operations. With more cleaning taking place while patients are present, processes must be completed safely and efficiently, so as not to create an unpleasant environment or put patients at risk.
AHP degrades to oxygen and water alone shortly after use which helps make formulations containing it safer to use. Chlorine-based products are suspected of aggravating asthma and other respiratory problems, and forming chlorine compounds in the atmosphere. Another consideration is that some products containing AHP have no safety classification whereas chlorine-based products usually carry a hazard symbol.
Breaking down to water and oxygen alone means products with AHP leave little or no residue on surfaces, helping to promote the appearance of the area being cleaned. They can be used safely on a wider range of surfaces, including wool and other fabrics, with reduced risk of damage. Chlorine based products on the other hand will corrode or degrade many surfaces with regular or prolonged use. Nor can they be used as part of a microfibre system because they damage the material, severely restricting their disinfection potency.
The variety of disinfectants has grown in recent years, as manufacturers have developed solutions for specific daily and problem-solving tasks. It is therefore important to match the product to the specific application. This optimises cleaning performance and reduces inefficiencies, poor results, and the need for repeat cleaning. Reputable manufacturers will provide advice on the most suitable products from their ranges to use in every situation. They should also be able to supply the documentation and evidence with independent test data to support product claims.
Hospitals and other healthcare facilities have a wider range of infection prevention tools at their disposal than ever before. The choice available means that there is greater flexibility to specify the right combination to meet infection prevention compliance and reduction targets in the quickest, simplest and most effective way that integrates with the facility’s other processes. The choices can be complex but leading cleaning and hygiene suppliers with experience in healthcare will be able to work with clinical, nursing and housekeeping teams to devise and implement robust infection prevention policies.
[v] Teska, Peter & Rushworth, A & Theelen, M & Jongsma, J. (2013). O018: Evaluation of the efficacy of a novel hydrogen peroxide cleaner disinfectant concentrate. Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control. 2. 10.1186/2047-2994-2-S1-O18.
The wide choice of hand hygiene products available from leading suppliers can make initial selection a little bewildering. Manufacturers like Diversey spend a good deal of time and money developing and testing formulations for particular settings and applications, and a product that offers excellent performance in one may not always be the best in another.
In healthcare, for example, the overriding need is for infection prevention. Hand care products must therefore be effective against common pathogens. But they must also be suitable for frequent use because staff, in particular, will need to disinfect their hands before and after each task and before and after contact with each patient.
The requirements in food service are different. Maintaining food safety is a priority. Everyone should wash their hands between tasks and when swapping from handling raw ingredients to cooked items and vice versa. Formulations therefore need to be effective against the type of pathogens likely to be found in food environments. They should also be suitable for frequent use and contain no perfumes to eliminate the risk of tainting the foods being handled, prepared and served.
In hotels and other hospitality settings the priority is likely to be the overall experience for the guest or customer. Formulations are more likely to contain perfumes and skin conditioners that make the products as pleasant to use as possible.
At Diversey, we offer a wide range of hand hygiene products for applications including healthcare, food service, hospitality and many other settings. As a leading supplier with years of experience, we can advise on the right product for every setting and situation.
Products available in the IntelliCare system, for example, are all supplied in the same type and size of self-contained pouch. That means the products are completely interchangeable without making any changes to the dispenser. This saves time, reduces complexity and allows users to switch products more easily if their requirements change. Using a larger-than-average pouch size means it contains more doses. That means the pouches last longer before they need replacing. This removes burdens from the team responsible for looking after the dispensers. It also helps to maintain the product availability that is at the heart of good hand hygiene.