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Rethinking hand hygiene

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  Posted by: The Probe      13th February 2020

A recent study has revealed that certain alcohol-based hand sanitisers often used in healthcare environments may not be as effective as previously thought. According to this new information, certain viruses – especially influenza – can effectively protect themselves from the effects of these hygiene products when encased in mucus. This means that they take minutes to be destroyed by the ethanol in these products instead of succumbing immediately to its effects.[i]

As such, it may be time for practices to rethink the hand hygiene options available to patients and professionals alike, especially as flu season is in full swing.

Viral intelligence

What makes this piece of research so interesting is the fact that mucus is commonly the vehicle in which the flu virus spreads from person to person. Droplets of mucus expelled during coughing or sneezing provide the perfect chance for viruses to spread as they can be inhaled by other people or survive on surfaces in waiting rooms, remaining infectious.

This new knowledge therefore confirms that viruses use mucus as a sort of protective layer as well as a vehicle of transmission, revealing that we have underestimated the efficacy of these pathogens and how they cope against cleaning products.

 The threats of flu

Of course, this is bad news as influenza can be a dangerous illness, especially for those who have weaker or compromised immune systems. In the UK, it is estimated that 600 people die per year due to complications caused by the flu virus. In fact, sometimes this number is considered to be even higher if the flu that year is particularly bad, and sources have attributed 10,000 deaths to the virus in certain years such as 2008-2009.[ii] There are also hugely dangerous flu pandemics that sweep the world on occasion, and although the last one of these was arguably in 1918 (millions of people died worldwide), there is still the chance that a particularly vicious strain could develop in the future.

Interestingly, the reason the flu is so dangerous is that it evolves every year and there are always different strains of the virus circulating at any one time. The three basic types of influenza are categorised as types A, B and C. Type A is typically the most dangerous and could be responsible for far-reaching effects such as pandemics and life-threatening/fatal illness. Type B is capable of causing life-threatening illnesses but has not been responsible for any pandemics, and type C is the most common strain that will likely only cause people to need a few days off work.[iii]

Because of the different strains and the ever-evolving nature of the virus, the previous year’s vaccine is unreliable protection, and therefore a new flu vaccine needs to be created each time flu season arrives. As there is no guarantee that patients will receive this vaccine, it’s important to look at further lines of defence in your practice, and here is where the focus on effective cleaning products and hand hygiene is essential.

Alternatives to alcohol-based sanitisers

As alcohol-based sanitisers have proven to be less effective than hoped, it’s important to explore alternatives for your practice. One of the cheapest, and most easily accessible options is simple soap and water. Handwashing with soap effectively kills viruses in as little as 30 seconds, and this can hugely limit the spread of diseases.

It is worth mentioning that soap and water is only highly effective if people wash their hands properly. Introducing posters and signs that explain the ideal hand-washing process will help instruct patients on the perfect method and help prevent diseases being spread.

However, as the flu virus can live on inanimate surfaces it’s important to consider good cleaning products as well, especially those that can offer lasting protection between applications. These need to be able to work on a wide array of surfaces including seats, door handles and other regularly touched pieces of furniture. It may also be worth looking at non-alcoholic hand rubs that can deactivate viruses regardless of mucus protection.

The Steri-7 Xtra range of disinfectants from Initial Medical is a particularly effective choice which fulfils these requirements. Available as both versatile surface cleaners that work on virtually all surfaces, as well as a range of hand hygiene products including soap and hand rubs, these products destroy 99.9999% of pathogens including the influenza virus. They also have Reactive Barrier Technology that prevents pathogens from recolonising for up to 72 hours after application. This means that even if someone sneezes or coughs the virus onto these surfaces, the products will react and destroy the pathogens there and then, limiting the chance of the virus being transmitted to someone new.

Exploring the options

In the end, hand hygiene is an essential part of infection control to consider. By looking at non-alcoholic rubs and cleaning products that effectively deactivate a wide array of pathogens, you can protect patients from clever viruses such as influenza.

 

For further information please visit www.initial.co.uk/medical or Tel: 0870 850 4045

 

 

About Initial Medical Waste Experts

Initial Medical is an expert in healthcare waste management, providing a complete collection, disposal and recycling service for hazardous and non-hazardous waste and offensive waste produced by businesses and organisations within the UK.

The safe management of healthcare waste is vital to ensure your activities are not a risk to human health.  Initial Medical’s healthcare waste services ensure that all of your waste is stringently handled in compliance with legislation and in accordance with Safe Management of Healthcare Waste best practice guidelines, providing you with the peace of mind that you are adhering to current legislation.

For further information please visit www.initial.co.uk/medical or Tel: 0870 850 4045

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[i] ScienceNews. Mucus Prevents Hand Sanitizers From Quickly Killing the Flu. Link: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/mucus-prevents-hand-sanitizers-quickly-killing-flu-virus [Last accessed October 19].

[ii] Vaccine Knowledge Project. Influenza (flu). Link: https://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/vk/influenza-flu [Last accessed October 19].

[iii] Vaccine Knowledge Project. Influenza (flu). Link: https://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/vk/influenza-flu [Last accessed October 19].


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