By Paul Budsworth, President – North America, Diversey
The 1918 influenza pandemic killed approximately 675,000 Americans and 50 million people around the world. One hundred years later, medical advancements like vaccinations have drastically reduced total fatalities related to the flu. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the 2017-2018 flu season resulted in more than 900,000 hospitalizations and 80,000 deaths. This was the deadliest flu season since fatality reporting began in 1976.
So how can we stop the spread of a common yet complex virus like the flu? In addition to getting a CDC-recommended annual vaccine, there are additional best practices that can reduce its impact.
Maintaining health through hand hygiene
Hand hygiene is the most effective method for stopping the spread of germs that can cause the cold and flu. However, although 61 percent of Americans increase hand washing to avoid sickness and passing on germs to others, a U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that 97 percent of Americans are washing their hands improperly.
Proper hand washing involves using soap and warm water, lathering hands and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, making sure to get the palms, the backs of hands, under fingernails and in between fingers. When soap and warm water are not available, hand sanitizer should be used to remove pathogens from hands.
To encourage hand hygiene, facilities like hospitals, schools, restaurants and office buildings should make sure that FDA-approved hand wash and sanitizer products are always stocked and easily accessible for employees and guests. Skin irritation can discourage people from washing hands, so products should also be enriched with skin conditioning emollients. This ensures that frequent hand hygiene won’t impact skin health.
Anytime access to hand hygiene essentials
Too often, employees and patrons encounter hand hygiene dispensers that are out of product or don’t dispense properly. This discourages hand washing and sanitizing and can accelerate the spread of germs. To combat this issue, some of today’s dispensers are combining automated and manual features, resulting in hybrid units that meet everyone’s needs. Facilities should look for a closed-loop dispensing system that can seamlessly convert from touch-free to manual mode in the event the batteries fail. Whether dispensers are placed in restrooms, kitchens or in high-traffic areas like hallways and cafeterias, this means that people always have access to hand hygiene essentials.
Controlling a costly virus
The flu costs the U.S. economy more than $10 billion each year – and that’s just accounting for the cost of hospitalizations and outpatient visits. Indirect costs related to absenteeism and time away from work drive the total much higher. Although the flu is an inevitable annual virus, regular and proper hand hygiene, coupled with staying home when sick and increasing the level of cleaning and disinfecting during peak flu season, can reduce its impact on the population and businesses.
Paul Budsworth is the President of North America for Diversey, a leader in providing smart sustainable solutions for cleaning and hygiene. To learn more about hand hygiene solutions from Diversey, including soaps, sanitizers and dispensers, visit www.diversey.com/diversey-care/hand-hygiene.