Web Exclusive - February 2013
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Fighting Disease, One Germ at a Time

This year has seen one of the worst flu seasons in decades, and it's not over yet. But there are ways to protect your facility and your members from disease.

It has been widely reported that this year's flu season is shaping up to become the worst in a decade, with flu beginning to reach "epidemic" levels. While each flu season is unpredictable, www.flu.gov reports that the flu can affect up to 20 percent of Americans each year, with flu cases usually peaking in January or February. Norovirus cases are also on the rise this season, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that it causes about 21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis each year—especially during the winter months.

Add the fact that New Year's Resolutions make January, February and March your gym's busiest months, and you can bet that there's a greater chance for health and fitness club members to contract an illness and spread it to others. Health and athletic club operators and their staff need to be aware of important infection prevention tips to help protect their patrons and the community at large.

To help health and athletic clubs prevent the spread of the flu and norovirus, Kim LaFreniere, Ph.D., associate research fellow at the Clorox Professional Products Company, offers professional staff four infection control tips:

1. Choose the Right Products
Studies show influenza viruses can survive on surfaces for up to eight hours, so it is important to use products that are effective against them. Cleaning with soaps or detergents and water physically removes germs, but does not kill them. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects.

According to the CDC, several types of disinfectants are effective against the flu, including chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and quaternary ammonium-based cleaners. No matter which product you use, it is important to always read the product label to ensure that it is EPA-registered to kill the influenza A virus and norovirus.

2. Disinfect High-Touch Surfaces Often
Objects and surfaces that are frequently touched such as doorknobs, benches, faucets, light switches and locker rooms need to be disinfected at least once a day. Locker room and shower floors can often breed germs if they are not properly cleaned and disinfected.

3. Clean and Disinfect Facilities Regularly
The flu and norovirus can spread when people touch infected surfaces and then touch their own mouth or nose. Flu viruses are fairly easy to kill when using the appropriate disinfectants as part of the cleaning and disinfecting process. Norovirus however, is tougher to kill as very few particles can cause infections and it is highly contagious. To protect patrons, in the busiest locker rooms, routine cleaning and disinfecting procedures should be followed at least two or three times per day.

4. Educate Cleaning Staff & Employees
Education is essential for maintaining healthy environments. Patrons are truly the first defense against germs, so club managers should provide informational materials for guests and members to educate themselves on proper cleaning protocols to reduce cross-contamination (i.e., hand washing, used towel disposal, best shower practices). In addition, the CDC recommends that operators encourage staff to get a seasonal flu vaccine and discourage sick employees from coming to work. Instruct employees to wash their hands regularly with soap and water especially after emptying waste baskets, using the restroom and after touching used tissues, towels or other waste.