Rising Flu Underscores Schools’ Need to Clean and Disinfect

Help protect your students by following these recommendations from the CDC.

November 14, 2022

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), early increases of seasonal influenza (flu) activity was continuing last week throughout the United States, with 6,465 patients suffering from laboratory-confirmed influenza admitted to a hospital. The southeastern and south-central areas of the country were reporting the highest levels of flu activity, followed by the Mid-Atlantic and the south-central West Coast regions.

Patient visits for respiratory illness symptoms including fever and sore throat were at 5.5% last week, which is above the national baseline of 2.5%, with those between the ages of 0 and 24 representing the highest percentage of reported visits (roughly 24%, collectively).

CDC stresses cleaning and disinfecting to help slow the spread of flu in schools and offers these specific recommendations:

1. Know the Difference Between Cleaning, Disinfecting, and Sanitizing

Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning does not necessarily kill the germs, but by removing them, it does lower their numbers as well as the risk of spreading infection.

Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects through the use of chemicals. Disinfecting does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. Sanitizing works by either cleaning or disinfecting to lower the risk of spreading infection.

2. Clean and Disinfect High-Touch Surfaces and Objects

Your school should have standard procedures for routine cleaning and disinfecting that need to be followed. Typically, this means daily cleaning and possibly disinfecting of high-touch items, such as desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, faucet handles, phones, and toys.

Immediately clean surfaces and objects that are visibly soiled. If surfaces or objects are soiled with body fluids or blood, use gloves and other standard precautions to avoid coming into contact with the fluid. Remove the spill, and then clean and disinfect the surface.

3. Clean and Disinfect Simply

It’s important to match your cleaning and disinfecting activities to the types of germs you want to remove or kill—in this case, the flu. Studies have shown that the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for up to 48 hours after being deposited on a surface. However, it’s not necessary to close schools to clean or disinfect every surface in the building to slow the spread of flu. Also, if students and staff are dismissed because the school cannot function normally (for example, high absenteeism during a flu outbreak), it’s not necessary to do extra cleaning and disinfecting.

Flu viruses are relatively fragile, so standard cleaning and disinfecting practices are sufficient to remove or kill them. Special cleaning and disinfecting processes, including wiping down walls and ceilings, frequently using room air deodorizers, and fumigating, are not necessary nor recommended, as they can produce more harm than good.

4. Clean and Disinfect Correctly

Always follow label directions on cleaning products and disinfectants. Wash surfaces with a general household cleaner to remove germs. Rinse with water and follow with an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectant approved for effectiveness against influenza A virus.

Use disinfecting wipes on high-touch electronic items, such as phones and computers, paying close attention to their directions for use. Make sure that the electronics can withstand the use of liquids for cleaning and disinfecting.

5. Use Products Safely

Pay close attention to hazard warnings and directions on product labels. Cleaning products and disinfectants often call for the use of gloves or eye protection.

Do not mix cleaners and disinfectants unless the labels indicate it is safe to do so. Combining certain products (such as chlorine bleach and ammonia cleaners) can result in serious injury or death.

Ensure that custodial staff, teachers, and others who use cleaners and disinfectants read and understand all instruction labels as well as safe and appropriate use. This might require that instructional materials and training be provided in other languages.

6. Handle Waste Properly

Follow your school’s standard procedures for handling waste, such as wearing gloves. Place no-touch waste baskets where they are easy to use. Throw disposable items used to clean surfaces and items in the trash immediately after use. Avoid touching used tissues and other waste when emptying waste baskets. Wash your hands with soap and water after emptying waste baskets and touching used tissues and similar waste.

For more information, also check out Don’t Forget About the Flu and Experts Predict Severe Respiratory Virus Season.

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