Controlling the spread of infection at educational institutions
Control the Spread

Controlling the spread of infection at educational institutions

As the outdoor temperatures cool down and people head indoors to go back to work and school after a long summer, many are concerned about the spread of sickness and infection. COVID-19 has impacted all areas of the country. While efforts are made by Environmental Services Staff (EVS) at most schools to reduce the spread of coronavirus, other contagious pathogens should not be overlooked. Norovirus and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) spread in public spaces and close quarters such as schools and universities. Commonly touched surfaces can play host both MRSA and norovirus, endangering the health of students and staff.

What is norovirus and how does it make you sick?

The Mayo Clinic describes norovirus as an infection that causes a sudden onset of severe vomiting and diarrhea. The virus is highly contagious and commonly spread through food or water contaminated during preparation, through soiled surfaces, or by coming in close contact with an infected individual. Norovirus infection occurs most often in tight and congested environments such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and childcare centers. Symptoms typically develop within 12- to 48 hours after exposure to the virus and generally last 24- to 36 hours. Most recover without intense treatment, but infants, senior citizens, and those with underlying illness may require medical attention due to the potential of severe dehydration as a result of symptoms. Norovirus outbreaks generally occur in the fall and winter months, sometimes carrying over to early spring.

Is MRSA a common infection at educational facilities?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a form of Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacterium that has unfortunately developed a resistance to many types of antibiotics. While MRSA has been around for many years, it typically was only found in healthcare settings, but as of late, spread to the community in other public spaces. People can contract MRSA nearly anywhere, but the infection is generally found in crowded facilities such as dorms, athletic facilities, and shared bathrooms. Similar to norovirus, MRSA can spread via surfaces or skin-to-skin contact. The bacteria can survive from mere hours to several weeks on surfaces that are commonly touched. If MRSA comes into contact with a scrape or open wound, it can lead to an infection that requires medical attention and lab tests to diagnose. 

How to combat contagious spread on campus

While the thought of an infectious outbreak on school property is a daunting one, the best defense is a solid offense. A well planned and well-executed cleaning strategy is the best safeguard against virus and infection spread. Routinely cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces and shared facilities with the proper chemical agents can help reduce illness among staff and students. 

When developing a cleaning plan, make sure EVS staff is outfitted with proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Fully protecting critical staff with masks, gloves, eyewear, disposable outerwear, and shoe and hair covers will keep them safe if exposed to either Norovirus or MRSA. While providing PPE is a critical first step in ensuring all safety precautions are followed, make sure staff is trained correctly on how to put on, wear, and remove their equipment. Once EVA staff are ready to tackle cleaning, take into account all necessary supplies needed. To quickly and efficiently clean all shared areas of campus, paper towels, sprayers, disposable cloths, tape, trash bags, mops, and buckets will all be required. Choose cleaner and disinfectants made with chemicals proven to kill both MRSA and norovirus such as chlorine bleach or a disinfectant recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Encouraging students to wash with soap and regularly sanitize hands with an alcohol-based sanitizer throughout the day can help prevent both norovirus and MRSA outbreaks. Installing hand sanitizing stations around campus and investing in no-touch plumbing fixtures encourage proper hand hygiene and reduce the risk of both cold and flu viruses as well.  

Proper cleaning procedures with necessary PPE, equipment, and chemical cleaning agents are the key to reducing the likelihood of an MRSA or norovirus outbreak.