Preventing the spread of illnesses in the office during Norovirus season

A staggering one in ten people globally will catch Norovirus in 2018 – with the risks of contracting this illness increasing in the UK at this time of the year as the mercury drops and we spend more time indoors.

Norovirus, also known as winter vomiting bug, is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis. It is highly contagious as fewer than 20 virus particles are necessary to cause infection and it can survive for long periods at ambient temperatures. To make matters worse, the two most common symptoms of Norovirus – vomiting and diarrhoea – can aerosolise virus particles due to the force by which they are expelled from the body. This means a person can become infected after eating food or breathing air nearby. Maintaining high standards of office and personal hygiene is key to helping prevent the spread of this unpleasant illness.

Hygiene at work

Offices are often challenging environments for preventing cross contamination due to the large numbers of people coming in and out each day, the shared spaces and equipment, as well as working practices such as hot-desking. Employers and facilities managers (FMs) therefore need to take action to ensure that the working environment does not to become a vector for viral infection.

It’s vital to ensure regular, thorough cleaning takes place throughout the office, with particular focus on communal areas such as kitchens and washrooms. On top of a regular cleaning regime, it is recommended that organisations also undertake a professional deep clean at least twice a year to prevent the build-up of hidden embedded dirt and potentially harmful micro-organisms. Organisations with hot-desking policies should also encourage staff to wipe down their desks and any shared equipment, such as keyboards and mice, at the start and end of each day by providing antibacterial wipes on desks.

Specialist Consultants can be brought in to analyse the microbiological landscape of premises and investigate the levels of bacteria on various surfaces and touchpoints within a building. With this information, they can then create a heatmap to illustrate the varying levels of microbiological activity throughout the premises, to enable FMs to quickly identify any particular problem areas. These problem areas can then be incorporated into daily cleaning routines, to ensure no areas of cross contamination are neglected. At Rentokil Specialist Hygiene we call this process a ‘Hygiene Healthcheck’ and it can go a long way to helping to prevent winter illness outbreaks, including Norovirus, from occurring.

Responding quickly and effectively to outbreaks

Due to its highly contagious nature, rapid efforts must be made to contain an outbreak of Norovirus. It’s important to call in professionals to conduct a deep clean of the office environment, as Norovirus particles can linger even after basic clean-up efforts. Combined with this, any staff displaying symptoms of the illness should be advised to stay away from the office for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have disappeared, to avoid wider contamination amongst the workforce

The expert treatment

An effective tool in the clean-up following the case of an outbreak is Ultra Low Volume (ULV) disinfectant fogging. Fogging is a technique which enables the treatment of large areas in a short space of time, by generating a mist formed of tiny droplets of disinfectant, measuring 5-50 microns in diameter. It can quickly sanitise areas and help make sure that downtime is kept to a minimum.

Vigilance is the best weapon in the fight against outbreaks of highly contagious and disruptive illnesses such as Norovirus. Undetectable to the human eye, the microbes that cause this type of illness, can quickly be spread by infected individuals across a wide variety of surfaces meaning that cleaning strategies need to be robust, effective, professional and undertaken on a regular basis. However, with the right tools and the right cleaning regime, your office can avoid becoming a vector for transmission of winter illnesses.