Viruses can’t be detected with the naked eye. However, when they infect millions of people, kill hundreds of thousands more and dominate headlines around the world – as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has done – their existence and power cannot be denied.
Many facility managers are understandably anxious about the spread of coronavirus and Influenza viruses within their properties via contaminated surfaces or indoor air. They are focused on protecting building occupants and employees. To hunt viruses effectively, facility managers can review what viruses are and how they operate, and discover how to consistently inactivate them through cleaning and disinfecting.
Understand the Opponent
Understanding what viruses are and how they spread is paramount to limiting their impact.
Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and are not widely considered living organisms. This is why we use the term inactivate rather than kill to describe eradicating viruses. All viruses are composed of two parts: genetic material – DNA or RNA – and a protective case or shell that is typically a protein or lipid coat. And because they struggle to thrive for any significant period of time outside the body of a host, such as a human, viruses are classified as parasites.
Facility managers understand that despite being easy to address on surfaces, viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 easily spread through the air. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this occurs when occupants cough, sneeze or blow their noses, releasing respiratory droplets that contain the virus. To render a virus unable to infect, something must halt its replication or prevent it from being able to enter host cells. The use of disinfectants is especially important, as they help alter the chemical makeup of the virus.
Some viruses are enveloped in a lipid coat, or capsid, including all coronaviruses, such as those that cause common colds. In fact, SARS-CoV-2 is a relatively easy pathogen to attack because it is enveloped – the lipid envelope of these viruses makes them more sensitive to environmental changes such as acidity. In addition, enveloped viruses do not generally survive as long on surfaces compared to non-enveloped viruses. Overall, non-enveloped viruses have a higher resistance to changes in physical environment or even chemistry.
Harness the Power of pH
The World Health Organization lists five different methods that can effectively inactivate viruses. They include three methods involving heat, as well as using solvents or detergents to attack viruses. For facility managers, the application of acidic pH is the primary method used to inactivate a virus.
Viral proteins denature – meaning their structures change significantly – under acidic conditions, usually a pH of 4 or lower. This is why disinfectants contain acidic compounds, such as hypochlorous acid, which make viral genetic material nonreplicable. Different viruses need varying amounts of time under acidic conditions before they are inactivated. As a result, each disinfectant has specific recommended dwell times. For example, some disinfectants have been proven to inactivate the novel coronavirus in 60 seconds on a pre-cleaned surface. Managers should review their chemical labels for pH levels and dwell times. They should also check the manufacturer’s efficacy reports to be sure that the product is well-matched with viruses of concern and safe for building occupants and staff.
Don’t just Disinfect
Before disinfecting, facility managers know it is critical to use an effective all-purpose cleaner to remove all surface soils that may harbor pathogens, including viruses. This way, acidic disinfectants can target remaining pathogens and “hunt” (inactivate) them effectively.
The pandemic has stretched on for months and there is still no vaccine or treatment. Unfortunately, there is a strong likelihood people will lapse in practicing recommended behaviors. For example, the American Cleaning Institute noted a 14% decline in frequent handwashing since the pandemic began.
As this “pandemic fatigue” sets in and people fail to regularly adhere to handwashing, social distancing and mask guidelines, there is an increased risk of illness. By using a two-step cleaning process, increasing cleaning and disinfecting frequency, and finding new, safe and effective methods, facility managers can inactivate viruses before they have a chance to spread.
Your Plan of Attack
By understanding how viruses work, spread and how to combat them, facility managers can help create cleaner and safer facilities. With insight into viruses and their transmission, managers can ensure that safety, efficacy and productivity are at the forefront of cleaning and disinfecting.
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