Preventing infection and protecting public health
Jan 8, 2014
Reports warning of threats from drug-resistant superbugs, virulent new types of influenza and novel coronavirus strains, not to mention the number of illnesses acquired while in the hospital, seem to grow ever more common.
John Hanlin, Ecolab vice president of Food Safety and Public Health, discusses how the company is helping to keep environments healthy through cleaning, disinfection and infection prevention.
Q. One of Ecolab’s four business platforms is healthy environments. What does it encompass?
A. It encompasses all that Ecolab does to help stop the transmission of pathogens that cause infections and make people sick:
- Providing products and service to customers in a variety of industries including healthcare, foodservice, lodging, education, long-term care, government and commercial facilities, cruise lines, quick-service restaurant chains and grocery is a top priority. Equally important is the public health expertise we provide our customers through awareness, training and education efforts.
- Conducting scientific research to develop innovative products that are effective in inactivating even the toughest organisms including viruses and bacterial spores. For example, Ecolab recently launched a new product to more quickly kill stubborn Clostridium difficile (C. difficile, or C. diff) spores on surfaces.
- Developing processes, procedures and technologies that effectively clean and disinfect environmental surfaces while improving staff efficiency.
- Participating in industry associations, such as the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, and by working with government, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other key stakeholder organizations such as the Joint Commission, which evaluates and accredits healthcare organizations. Through these efforts, Ecolab works to ensure that the most innovative technologies are brought to market and used according to accepted standards, guidelines and recommendations
Q. What products and services does Ecolab offer?
A. For hospitals and clinics, long-term care facilities, hotels, restaurants, schools, government and commercial facilities and cruise lines, Ecolab offers products and services that promote hand hygiene, including soaps, sanitizers and lotions, and environmental hygiene, including cleaners and disinfectants for hard surfaces and frequently touched objects such as door handles and handrails. By focusing on healthy environments, our customers have another tool to break the cycle of infection, thereby protecting patients, visitors, guests and staff.
For the special needs of hospitals and other healthcare organizations providing acute care, Ecolab also provides products and services for:
Q. What makes public spaces unhealthy
- Surgical instrument reprocessing, including cleaning solutions for fast-acting cleaning, improved safety and reduced environmental impact
- Protection for patients and surgical equipment, including a broad variety of drapes to safeguard the sterile field during different types of surgical procedures
- Patient temperature management, including warmed irrigation fluid and scope warming to reduce the risk of inadvertent hypothermia, which can increase the risk of surgical site infections
- Contamination control in compounding pharmacies and cleanrooms, including filtered, sterile and non-sterile alcohol, biocides, detergents and wipes
A. Bacteria, viruses and other illness-causing microorganisms are the culprits. These pathogens can spread from person to person through the air and via contact with hard surfaces and frequently touched objects, such as doorknobs. From our hands, germs can easily infect us when we touch our eyes, nose and mouth.
Q. What types of health threats do we encounter in public places?
A. Influenza and colds are very common, especially in the winter but they’re not the only infection risks. There are many others, and a number of them can be serious, including C. diff and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA. Both are associated with healthcare environments, but they, and others, can be acquired in community settings – public spaces other than hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Q. Is the threat of infection growing?
A. There’s increasing concern about the strong resistance some bacteria are developing to the antibiotics used to kill them. In the U.S., the CDC reported recently that each year at least two million Americans get sick from drug-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs,” and that at least 23,000 die from these infections.
Q. What emerging threats is Ecolab watching?
A. Ecolab is paying special attention to four:
- CRE, or Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, an infection caused by a large family of bacteria, some of which have developed resistance to all or almost all antibiotics. Although the CDC says CRE germs are not very common, the agency has noted an increase over the past decade. Currently CRE mostly affects patients undergoing serious medical care, but its resistance to antibiotics makes CRE a potentially serious threat.
- MERS-CoV, previously known as Novel Coronavirus (CoV), which emerged in September 2012 and has caused 166 lab-confirmed illnesses, including 71 deaths (as of December 20, 2013), with outbreaks in the Middle East, Europe and North Africa.
- Influenza A (H7N9), an avian virus identified in China earlier this year, which causes severe lower respiratory illness in humans. As of October 25, 2013, 137 cases had been confirmed, 45 of which resulted in death. Humans appear to become infected due to exposure to live poultry or contaminated environments, but public health officials are watching closely for evidence the virus can be transmitted from person to person.
- Legionella pneumophila – the bacterial pathogen that causes Legionnaires’ disease – a severe form of pneumonia. The US CDC estimates between 8,000 and 18,000 hospitalizations in the US each year with an estimated case fatality rate of between 5 and 30 percent. This bacterial pathogen can be associated with engineered water systems of buildings such as hospitals, hotels, and office buildings. Legionella can cause infection when contaminated water is aersosolized and inhaled by a susceptible individual. Cooling towers, decorative fountains and whirlpool spas are common sources of outbreaks.
Q. What’s the next frontier in infection prevention and keeping environments safe?
A. Monitoring and reporting of proper surface cleaning and disinfection in healthcare settings – and monitoring hand hygiene. The opportunity for improvement is large, and healthcare facilities recognize that monitoring and reporting can have a positive impact on their efforts to continuously improve infection prevention. Our customers see the benefits of preventing outbreaks of infection and so processes and technologies that improve efficiency while ensuring effective cleaning and disinfection will also continue to be in high demand.
Learn More about Ecolab’s work to keep environments safe.