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Is Norovirus now the ‘summer vomiting bug’?

The outbreak of Norovirus at the World Athletics Championships in London is the latest in a spate of reports of the ‘winter vomiting bug’ making an unseasonal appearance. Traditionally associated with the colder winter months, the highly infectious illness has reared its head this summer, causing disruption and absenteeism not just in the sporting world, but also in offices, schools and even hospitals.

Norovirus is one of the most common sickness bugs in the UK, affecting the UK population all year round. Each year, it is estimated that between 600,000 and 1 million people in the UK catch the vomiting virus, and according to Public Health England, 2016 saw 71% more patients struck down by Norovirus than in 2015.  The risk of catching highly-infectious illnesses like Norovirus persists, even in the summer months.

In every industry, ensuring the health and safety of staff, optimising employee output, and guaranteeing customer wellbeing can be achieved by providing a clean environment. Given the UK is performing poorly against its G7 competitors in terms of productivity and engagement, it’s vital for us to take the necessary steps to reduce employee absenteeism wherever possible.[1]

Say no to Norovirus
People often associate the spread of illness with direct contact. However, germs can easily spread from people through indirect contact with contaminated surfaces, such as shared objects. This could include computer keyboards, door handles and communal kitchen facilities. For example, an office computer mouse has been found to house thousands of microorganisms per square centimetre.[2]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is just one of many institutions that recognise good hand hygiene as one of the easiest ways to limit the spread of germs and control cross-infection. Frequent handwashing can actually reduce the risk of illness by up to 50%, which can go a long way to bolstering staff health, wellbeing, morale and productivity.

Encouraging and practising good hand hygiene is a simple yet effective way for organisations to prevent outbreaks of illnesses like Norovirus. But how many of us are doing it right?  Here are our top handwashing tips:

  1. Wet your hands using clean, running water – preferably warm water – and apply soap. If possible use a no-touch dispenser to avoid cross contamination.
  1. Rub soap all over your hands. Take care to cover the front, back, fingers, thumbs and nails.
  1. Rinse your hands again with clean running water. The entire handwashing process should take around 20-30 seconds – that’s about the time it takes to sing happy birthday twice!
  1. Dry your hands thoroughly. Damp hands spread 1,000 times more bacteria than dry hands, so the door handle of the washroom is likely to become contaminated if hand drying is missed.[3]
  1. Sanitise your hands. Alcohol-free hand sanitisers should be available in office environments, as they provide an effective, long-lasting barrier to protect against microorganisms. Initial’s UltraProtect, for example, uses residual anti-microbial technology to kill 99.99% of germs.

Fighting grime through a cleaning regime
In addition to practising good hand hygiene, implementing an effective cleaning routine is a crucial element of combatting germs and grime.

There are two ways cleaning can be carried out in any facility: proactively and reactively. Proactive cleaning involves routine disinfection of shared contact points and communal areas. It goes without saying that surfaces in communal areas should regularly be cleaned, using anti-bacterial wipes and surface sanitisers where possible.

While routine cleaning is crucial, it alone will not prevent the build-up of dirt, dust and grease in hard-to-reach areas. These deposits can accumulate in your premises on surfaces such as walls, ceilings, lights and appliance fittings, and can provide the perfect environment for microbiological contamination. It is therefore recommended that bathroom and kitchen facilities in the workplace are deep cleaned twice a year, at the very least.

Reactive cleaning should occur as necessary, for example during or following the outbreak of an illness, or when someone carrying an infection has visited the premises. If employees, customers or visitors become ill, or report symptoms of illness, then a deep clean is always recommended. They should also stay away from work for 48 hours after their symptoms have ceased to prevent recontamination. As every premises requires a tailored solution, engaging a fully trained specialist cleaning supplier will ensure the right kind of deep clean is undertaken, to reduce the risk of re-infection.

Final thoughts

It’s beneficial to all parties – whether you’re a business owner, facilities manager or employee – to implement robust hygiene practices in the office. Promoting good hand hygiene, and guaranteeing that facilities are fully compliant with health and safety regulations, are essential components of limiting the spread of contagious diseases such as Norovirus.

Written by: Dr Peter Barratt, Technical Manager, Initial Washroom Hygiene and Luke Rutterford, Technical Manager, Rentokil Specialist Hygiene

[1] ONS, 2015

[2] Initial, 2016

[3] D. Patrick, G. Findon, & T. Miller, Residual moisture determines the level of touch-contact associated bacterial transfer following hand washing in Epidemiology & Infection, 119, (3), pp. 319-325 (1997)

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