The traditional flu and cold season is just beginning, but if current trends are any indication, it could be one of the worst in years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), flu hospitalization rates are peaking earlier in the season than at any time in the last decade. RSV, a severe respiratory illness, is also surging, with cases up 60 percent compared to last year’s peak week, according to an analysis by CNN.
Why is this happening?
According to nationwide health officials, the measures that people took to keep safe from COVID-19 the last couple of years – the lockdowns, the physical distancing, wearing masks, etc. – has created a pandemic “immunity gap” that is spiking the number of flu cases as we head into winter, according to an article in The Lancet, a weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal.
Facility managers thinking about cutting their cleaning budgets due to inflation and other economic pressures, should reconsider given this surge.
In particular, health officials are concerned about a confluence of three major pathogens -- dubbed a “tripledemic” by some the media and some doctors. This includes lingering COVID cases, a resurgent influenza virus, and RSV, or Respiratory Syncytial Virus.
"COVID cases are expected to rise during the winter. This will be occurring at the same time we expect to see influenza rates increase while we are already seeing an early start to RSV season,” according to Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, which issued a health bulletin called A Tripledemic Expected this Winter. “With all three viruses on the rise, we are worried about an increase in the rates of viral infection that may lead to an increase in hospitalizations.”
According to the CDC, those hospitalizations are already happening. In a weekly bulletin published last week, the CDC said have been 1.6 million cases of the flu, including 13,000 hospitalizations and 730 deaths. The current flu hospitalization rate is the highest it has been this early in the season since 2010-2011, the agency reported. Meanwhile, RSV is surging, impacting children’s hospitals across the country. Two weeks ago, nearly 200 children tested positive for RSV at Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
So, what does all this mean for facility leaders?
For one, it means they need to be boosting their cleaning budgets – not reducing them -- so they can protect employees, customers, and other building occupants. They should also consider a “cleaning for health” approach that adjusts programs to holistically consider facility type, the concentration and flow of people utilizing the facility, the various surface and materials used throughout, and more.
The Impact of the Flu
During a normal season, flu illnesses can take a devastating toll on public health – and worker productivity. During the last full, pre-COVID flu season (2019-20), the CDC estimated the flu caused:
- 38 million flu illnesses – about the same as the population of California
- 400k flu hospitalizations – about the same as the population of Miami, FL
- 22k flu deaths – enough people to fill Madison Square Garden
Last year, the flu burden dipped substantially, with only an estimated 5,000 flu deaths, according to the CDC, but as noted early, cases are expected to rise dramatically.
It’s also important to remember that the impacts of the cold and flu are far-reaching: an estimated 60 million school days1 are lost each year due to the common cold, while poor health costs U.S. employers $530 billion annually2 and a total of 1.4 billion workdays of absence and impaired performance.
Understanding how to prevent the spread of the flu and other pathogens will be critical to keeping spaces healthy during the cold and flu season. For more details on what contributes to infection spread, download the KBS 2022-23 Cleaning for Health data sheet.
3 Tips for Maintaining Healthier Operations This Winter
If current flu trends continue as health officials suspect, facility and operations leaders will want to boost their cleaning resources. Here are three tips on how they can maintain healthier operations at their facilities:
- Increase focus on cleaning and disinfection – A regular cleaning program, with increases in touch point cleaning through the winter season, is required to combat the spread of all types of cold and flu-causing germs.
- Surface cleaning is essential – Whether it is an office building, shopping center, or school campuses, people have a heightened awareness of cleanliness as a result of the recent pandemic. Proper surface cleaning and disinfecting can mitigate a host of pathogens known to spread on surfaces – including RSV – and it’s vital to partner with a service provider who understands which surfaces must be both cleaned and sanitized to prevent the transmission of illnesses.
- Invest in a professional cleaning program – Outsourced facility service programs deliver effective results administered by trained professionals who know how to clean and disinfect nearly any type of building or facility, including those in regulated industries. For example, they know how to apply chemicals safely and effectively, reducing risk to the public. In addition, they can deploy the latest technology and best practices to help eradicate germs and rebalance toward a “cleaning for health” approach.