MERS, Pandemics and the Role of Cleaning

For the past decade, warnings about the inevitability of the next global pandemic have been in the news. The concern is for that superbug that rapidly spreads around the world as such infections have many times in the past.

Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is one of those types of possible pandemic infections that reached the United States and was confirmed earlier this month. There have been two cases, confirmed on the 2nd and the 11th, both involving travelers from Saudi Arabia.

According to the CDC, MERS is a coronavirus. Most people who have been confirmed to have MERS-CoV infection developed severe acute respiratory illness. They had fever, cough, and shortness of breath. About 30% of these people died. MERS-CoV has been shown to spread between people who are in close contact. Transmission from infected patients to healthcare personnel has also been observed. Clusters of cases in several countries are being investigated.

Regardless of the pandemic threat level at any given time, the spread of illness is an important issue in cleaning.

Reducing the common cold, seasonal influenza and MRSA may be more common local concerns. Because as cleaners we have the ability (and the responsibility) to break cross-contamination cycles, custodians and other cleaning technicians are front-line defenders of health. Planning for pandemics has been an important topic promoted in PUR-O-ZONE seminars and on this website since 2007. 

Wrong Assumption

One myth in responding to pandemics with planning is that businesses and schools will simply close down until the threat passes. The dangerous associated thought is that little planning or stocking of essential products is necessary. However this line of thinking is based on the premise that the danger will pass in a relatively short period of time. The fact is that the threat will probably affect any given area in waves, but during a specific period will be an on-going threat for many weeks to months to years, depending on the infection itself and the scientific community's ability to get that outbreak under control.

Schools and businesses will not be able to shut down and wait it out. The period will likely be too long for that solution. There may be periods of closures during peak periods. 

So the importance of cleaning for health, breaking cross-contamination cycles, personal protective equipment and procedures, effective understanding of disinfection principles, and written plans for facilitating all of the above, are important to consider now, while the immediate threat is low. Many companies have documented pandemic plans, and yours should include the changes your cleaning staff will make to respond to threats. 

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