By Robert Kravitz

Costly Germs

A few years back, Science Digest published an article entitled “The Annual Impact of Seasonal Influenza in the US: Measuring Disease Burden and Cost.”  What they found was the following:

  • Seasonal influenza in the United States is estimated to impose an economic burden of nearly $90 billion annually
  • Of this amount, $16 billion can be attributed to lost earnings and worker productivity as a result of ill staffers
  • Direct medical costs amounted to about $10 billion annually
  • The flu resulted in 3.1 million hospitalized days and more than 31 million outpatient visits to hospitals or other medical centers.

We should note, this study just involved the flu.  There are other infectious diseases that are of great concern due to the burdens and costs they produce.  Among them are nosocomial (hospital-acquired) diseases in hospitals: MRSA, norovirus, and others.


The best way to reduce these burdens and costs is with prevention and that involves effective, hygienic cleaning.  When we use the word hygienic, we are referring to preventing disease by keeping surfaces sanitary and disinfected, which ultimately is the goal - and the true value - of cleaning.


Effective, hygienic cleaning is so important because many diseases are spread when infected individuals touch objects such as ledges, counters, doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails, and other high touch areas.  Now these surfaces are contaminated. 


When these same areas are touched by others, the germs and pathogens on those surfaces often spread.  This can happen in many ways including just touching our eyes, nose, and face.  Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that, without thinking about it, we touch our eyes, nose, and face about 16 times per hour.  They even found people that touch their eyes, nose, and face as much as 100 times per hour.  This gives those pathogens a number of ways to transfer from one person to another.


According to Bill Balek, director of legislative and environmental services for ISSA, the worldwide cleaning association, “Effective cleaning of surfaces, including high-touch surfaces, significantly decreases the number of pathogens on those surfaces, which in turn reduces the risk of [disease] transmission and infection.”


If you were looking for ways to understand the value of clean, you just found one.  Our job is to keep people healthy, and now you know exactly how effective, hygienic cleaning does it.  Next, we have to know how to put this into practice, especially when using disinfectants.  Below are some best practices:

  • If using a disinfectant, remember the surface has to be cleaned first and then disinfected; it is a two-step process.
  • Read and follow all directions on a product’s label.
  • The disinfectant must be appropriate.  Again, read the label.  Some disinfectants are designed to kill certain pathogens and not others.  Make sure the pathogens of concern are listed on the label.  If you are not sure, use a broadband disinfectant.
  • Make sure the disinfectant is properly diluted, and remember more does not mean better with most cleaning chemicals and especially disinfectants.  When more chemical is used than is necessary, it can leave chemical residue on surfaces which results in rapid resoling.
  • Look into alternative cleaning systems.  In some studies, no-touch cleaning systems have proven to effectively clean and sanitize surfaces even when no cleaning solutions are used.  This is likely because the system “blasts” areas being cleaned actually removing pathogens.

Finally, always remember to protect your own safety.  When cleaning contaminated surfaces, wear gloves and goggles…you just might be one of those people that touches your face 100 times per hour.


For more information on products that can help you clean more effectively and efficiently, visit Kaivac.

Robert Kravitz

Robert Kravitz

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor, having owned, operated, and then sold three contract cleaning companies in Northern California.

He is the author of two books about the industry and continues to be a frequent writer for the industry. 


Robert is now president of AlturaSolutions Communications, which provides communications and marketing services for organizations in the professional cleaning and building industries.


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