Every winter, office cleaning service providers go on high alert for flu season, pulling double-duty to help prevent the spread of infection. But influenza isn’t the only illness in peak season this time of year. Winter is also the most common time of year for norovirus, the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. and a thorn in the side of employers, employees, and office cleaning service providers.
Roughly 1 in 15 Americans contracts a norovirus infection each year, with the vast majority of cases occurring between December and March. Norovirus infections result in 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations each year, as well as 560 to 800 deaths.
Norovirus also has a devastating price tag: Experts say that annual costs from norovirus outbreaks exceed $2 billion in the U.S., a figure that includes productivity loss and HR costs. What’s more, even though most people think of norovirus as a foodborne illness, most norovirus outbreaks are non-foodborne. This means that if a single employee comes to work with norovirus, your office could become ground zero for an outbreak.
If you want to protect your workforce against norovirus this winter, we suggest a closer look at your office cleaning and hygiene practices.
The Risk of Norovirus Outbreaks in the Office
Before you adjust your office cleaning plan for norovirus season, it’s helpful to understand what norovirus is, how it functions, and what you can do to prevent the spread of infection.
Norovirus is the most common form of gastroenteritis, which is more commonly referred to as the stomach flu. The virus is characterized by a rapid onset of multiple symptoms, including nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
While these symptoms only last for a few days, infected individuals remain contagious for up to two weeks after symptoms disappear. That’s a serious concern, since norovirus is a particularly contagious and fast-spreading virus. Sick individuals can spread billions of virus particles and it takes less than twenty of these particles to infect another person.
In the workplace, norovirus outbreaks can easily occur if an employee comes to work with the virus. If they spread virus particles to other employees, the whole office could become infected within a matter of days. This risk is highest between the months of December and March, when norovirus infections occur five to ten times as often as they do during summer.
Thankfully, employers can reduce the risk of infection with a proactive approach to norovirus season. That will likely involve updating your office cleaning plan, as well as other changes around the office.
Norovirus Prevention: Education, Hygiene & Office Cleaning
If you’ve already taken steps to fight the flu in your office, you’ve got a head start for norovirus prevention. Norovirus season overlaps with flu season, and many of the same hygiene and office cleaning strategies used to prevent the flu will also help prevent norovirus outbreaks.
If, on the other hand, you don’t have a flu prevention plan, it’s not too late to protect your workplace against viral infections like norovirus. Here are five specific ways that you can do so:
- Education. Many people who contract norovirus don’t realize that they’re still contagious for up to two weeks after their symptoms resolve. Others think of norovirus as a purely foodborne illness, so they don’t realize the different ways by which virus particles spread. As such, you’ll want to educate employees about the risks of norovirus and what they can do to prevent it.
- Hygiene. Norovirus particles tend to spread through poor hand hygiene. Infection only takes a small number of virus particles, so if employees fail to wash their hands or do a poor job of handwashing, they could easily infect their coworkers. Encourage proper handwashing throughout norovirus season and consider making hand sanitizer available to employees.
- Food. Norovirus often spreads when an infected person handles food for other people. If your employees regularly share food or snacks — particularly finger foods like pizza or donuts — that’s an easy way to spread norovirus particles. As such, you may wish to discourage employees from sharing these kinds of foods during the winter months.
- Cleaning. When norovirus season hits, it’s a smart idea to ramp up your office cleaning and disinfection efforts. Bathrooms tend to be ground-zero for workplace norovirus outbreaks, since virus particles are spread by vomiting and feces. At JAN-PRO®, our owner-operators use EnviroShield® to disinfect bathroom surfaces, as well as other high-touch areas in the office.
- Sick Leave. If an employee contracts norovirus, you don’t want them spreading the virus to their coworkers. Unfortunately, many workers will come to work even if they are starting to get sick, or they will rush back to work as soon as they start to feel better. Generous sick leave and work-from-home policies can discourage this, dramatically reducing the risk of a norovirus outbreak.
Worried about norovirus outbreaks this winter? Call 866-355-1064 today to connect with your local JAN-PRO office and learn how our office cleaning services can help you maintain a health and hygiene during norovirus season.