Colds, flu and other viral outbreaks don’t just affect peoples health and well-being. They impact employee productivity, facility reputation and, in serious flu cases, can also result in death. Financially, the cost of flu to Canadian businesses is over $1 billion annually.
If you manage the environmental team in a facility of any kind, (institutional, educational, athletic, assisted living, commercial, etc.), you know that preventing disease outbreaks is a critical responsibility. By using best practice processes and procedures, along with the latest technology and innovation, you can be confident that the highest standards of cleanliness are being maintained – and so can those who use your facility every day.
This comprehensive guide to preventing and containing cold and flu outbreaks walks through the latest products, procedures and equipment to prevent and contain the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses to maintain good building health.
Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory disease that has been around for centuries. The first recorded flu epidemic occurred in Europe during the 14th century. It has claimed between 340 million and 1 billion human lives throughout history. Even today the flu kills between an estimated 250,000 and 500,000 people every year. Though we’ve since learned to understand and handle flu infections better, it’s not a disease we’ve learned to cure. Our best defense is vaccination, which people are encouraged to get every year. This is a preventative measure and its effectiveness varies from person to person, season to season and from flu strain to flu strain.
There are three main strains of human influenza: A, B and C. Each type has different subtypes and strains. Some are more prevalent in certain winters, largely due to specific seasonal conditions and the natural infectious spread of the strain amongst people.
In Canada, millions of people are affected by the flu every year, due to its highly contagious nature. It attacks the nose, throat and lungs and is particularly threatening to the elderly, children and those with underlying health conditions.
In fact, it is estimated that between 2,000 and 8,000 Canadians die from the flu– or associated complications such as pneumonia – each year.
The trouble with the flu is that it spreads like hair from a shedding dog! It also prefers to hang out in the same warm, dry areas that we do in winter. Its ability to spread easily onto surfaces and then quickly from human to human means that flu in shared spaces can be a recipe for disaster.
The worst-case scenario is when those spaces are in high traffic areas and surfaces are constantly touched and re-touched by dozens, hundreds or even thousands of hands. An outbreak within any sort of communal area is highly likely as soon as just one person or surface is infected!
It takes just one person to spread flu germs and put hundreds of others at risk. The associated staff absenteeism, lost productivity and business closures can result in significant financial losses.
Preventing minor outbreaks from becoming large scale, facility-wide events has been very difficult – until now.
Signs or Symptoms
Knowing how to prevent the flu and what to do if an outbreak occurs is essential, but it’s also critically important to understand how to identify the flu in the first place. People with the flu often think they have a bad cold, and that misconception can expose many people to the virus before there is a chance to prevent the spread. When someone starts exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, it’s important that they are isolated to not only speed their recovery, but also prevent others from becoming infected. And, just like Mom always said, getting “plenty of rest and plenty of fluids” is key!
Typically, an individual struck by the flu will bear the brunt of the illness for five to seven days. During this time, depending upon the severity of the flu, they may be bed bound for three to four days and need to stay at home for a week or more. Once the symptoms have all but disappeared, they are well enough to return to work without worsening the condition or putting others at risk. Although the chance of spreading the illness will be reduced, proper handwashing and avoiding handshakes are extremely important!
The Cost of Colds and Flu
No one likes the idea of getting a cold, or worse, the flu, but people are not the only ones who suffer. Business does, too. The Canadian Healthcare Influenza Network estimates that about 1.5 million workdays are lost every year in Canada because of the flu alone. This results in estimated healthcare costs and lost productivity to the tune of around $1 billion annually, severely impacting individuals, families, small businesses, large corporations and the economy as a whole.
A flu outbreak in work environments can be tricky. In today’s workplace, employees are faced with the choice of going to work or staying home when they suspect they are coming down with the flu. While public health officials and doctors strongly advise that employees should stay out of the workplace to rest, recover and prevent the spread of the virus, many feel pressure to go to work anyway. Ironically, those that do so when clearly suffering from colds and flu make their condition worse, infect their co-workers and can substantially reduce productivity for several weeks. For both the employee and the company, it’s a lose- lose situation.
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