Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Flu & Cold Prevention

By Sue Minichiello

Sick_at_workThis is shaping up to be a particularly nasty flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that over 7,000 flu cases are already confirmed. That’s more than twice the number reported at this time in 2016. Seven states — including Massachusetts — are witnessing “widespread influenza activity.” With peak flu season in the U.S. running December through February, there’s still a ways to go, and AffinEco cleaning crews are on full alert.

Keeping building and school occupants safe and healthy is a priority for AffinEco cleaners year-round. At this time of year, those routines intensify to help battle against the spread of the flu and the common cold. A few routines getting extra attention now are:

  • Increased cleaning and disinfecting of high-touch surfaces, or “germ concentration zones.” Those include desktops, keyboards and computer mice, telephones, doorknobs/handles, railings, faucet handles, and drinking fountains. (According to a 2014 study, a virus sample placed on a doorknob and tabletops in an office spread to 40-60% of workers and visitors within just 2-4 hours.)
  • Increased cleaning and disinfecting of certain areas, such as restrooms and break rooms.
  • Immediately and properly disposing of contaminated waste, such as tissues and wipes.

As always, AffinEco cleaners are trained on proper cleaning and disinfecting techniques — including the required dwell time (surface to remain wet) to kill the associated germ — and use only EPA-registered disinfectants approved for killing the influenza A virus.

Earlier in December, AffinEco acquired a Clorox Total 360 System, which is an electrostatic sprayer that enables better coverage of disinfectants and sanitizers on hard-to-reach areas like the sides, underside, and backside of surfaces. It also works four times faster and uses up to 65% less disinfectant and sanitizer than application by hand. The maker claims the accompanying disinfectant kills cold and flu viruses, MRSA, norovirus and other viruses in two minutes or less.

“One of my teams just used the Clorox Total 360 machine at a daycare. It was so simple. You just point, spray and you’re done,” said Jorge Jimenez, AffinEco vice president and general manager. “This is a really helpful piece of equipment for us, especially at this time of year.”

While it’s impossible to achieve a completely a germ-free environment, there are several important steps people working in schools and office buildings — as well as AffinEco staff — can follow to help stop the spread of germs during cold and flu season. They include:

  1. Using a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, then immediately throwing it in the trash.
  2. Coughing or sneezing into your elbow when a tissue isn’t available.
  3. Washing your hands often.
  4. Using a hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available.
  5. Avoiding touching your nose, mouth and eyes, especially after touching common surfaces or shaking hands with someone, and in between hand-washing or sanitizing.
  6. Staying home when you are sick.

Employers and school officials can help by:

  1. Developing and displaying guidelines to prevent the spread of illness.
  2. Providing readily available tissues, no-touch trash cans, hand soap, hand sanitizers, and disinfecting wipes.
  3. Encouraging sick employees and students to stay at home.

Employers and school officials should clearly communicate policies and expectations when someone contracts a cold or the flu. Absenteeism and presenteesim (working while sick) not only affect the person that is ill, but also their coworkers and fellow students.

According to EBP Supply, a distributor of janitorial and cleaning supplies that AffinEco works with, “Students or employees who are absent due to cold or flu illness contribute to an organization’s lost productivity. There are over 111 million workdays and 38 million absences lost every year due to the flu, which amounts to billions of dollars in losses. In addition, the common cold accounts for 189 million school days lost and schools spend over $2 billion on substitute teachers each year. Extended length of illness absence can pull at the resources of the workplace or impair a student’s ability to keep up.

Also, “When people are ill at work or school, they increase the risk of contamination and spread of illness to their fellow employees and students, and many employers see up to a 30% reduction in productivity for employees who are ill but still come to work. It is estimated that now up to 60% of the total cost of worker illness is because of presenteeism.”

When it comes to preventing the spread of the flu and common cold in office buildings and schools, everyone — employers and administrators, staff and students, and the cleaning company — plays a vital role and should take whatever steps they can to help improve workplace health, especially during the cold and flu season.

(image courtesy of