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IPM for Microorganisms with a Focus on Influenza Viruses

Here are five important things to know as you combat the flu virus.


  1. Know the difference between cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing.
  • Cleaning removes some germs, debris, and dirt from surfaces or objects. Soap and water significantly improves the physical removal of germs from surfaces.
  • Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting alone will not clean dirty surfaces but disinfecting after cleaning further lowers the risk of spreading infectious germs. Disinfectant wipes are registered pesticides as they are designed to kill, or inactivate microbes.
  • Sanitizing lowers the number of viable germs on surfaces or objects to safe levels, determined by public health requirements.

When addressing pathogens in the built environment, select the cleaning product based on the need. While soapy water is sufficient to clean up a drink spill, it is not the best option for all jobs, for example, a disinfectant is required to clean wrestling mats to prevent the spread of infectious skin diseases like ringworm (a fungal infection of the skin). Remember that disinfectants are registered pesticides and therefore the label must be followed in order to avoid health problems, such as eye injuries, chemical burns, and respiratory illness, as well as to achieve effective disinfection.

As influenza cases increase, school teachers appeal for disinfectant wipes and tissues.  While it is enormously helpful to supply the latter, disinfectant wipes are not ideal for school classrooms for several reasons:

  • School aged children should NOT be touching them.  KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN is on the container.
  • They are sometimes used as hand and even face wipes by children, and many contain eye irritants as well as respiratory irritants that affect asthmatics.
  • Disinfectant wipes are registered pesticides as they are designed to kill, or inactivate microbes.  Unfortunately they can be used incorrectly, e.g., people should use gloves, or at least wash their hands after using them.
  1. Clean surfaces and objects that are touched often.
  • Daily sanitize surfaces and objects that are touched often, such as desktops, countertops, door handles, computer mouse keyboards, faucets, and phones.
  • Use gloves when handling surfaces and items contaminated with bodily fluids, and throw soiled items away after proper disinfection
  • The flu virus can remain in an infectious form on a surface for up to 48 hours. It is not necessary to close work places, childcare facilities or schools to clean or disinfect because of flu. If facilities are closed due to staff shortages or student absenteeism during a flu outbreak, it is not necessary to do extra cleaning and disinfecting. Normal cleaning and disinfection practices are sufficient to remove or kill flu viruses.
  1. Always follow label directions on cleaning products and disinfectants.
  • Wash surfaces with a detergent to remove dirt.
  • Rinse with water.
  • Apply an EPA-registered disinfectant that is approved to kill influenza virus, following label directions exactly. Disinfection usually requires the product to remain on the surface for a certain period of time (e.g., letting it stand for 3 to 5 minutes), and may need to be removed with clean water. Follow label directions exactly.

Remember to read the label, washing hands after use should be exercised by anyone using these products without gloves.

  1. Product safety.
  • Products have specific directions on labels and hazard warnings. Chemically protective gloves and eye protection is advisable and may be legally required.
  • Never allow children to use disinfectants or disinfectant wipes.
  • Do not mix detergents with disinfectants unless the label explicitly states that it is safe to do so. Combining products can result in serious injury or death. Mixing chlorine bleach and ammonia cleaners produces a lethal chlorine gas. Commonly used products contain bleach (hypochlorite) and ammonia e.g., toilet bowl cleaners often contain bleach, and window cleaners often contain ammonia.
  • Ensure that anyone using cleaners and disinfectant products have access to labels in a familiar language, and can read and understand the labels.
  1. Solid Waste handling.
  • Follow standard institutional procedures for handling waste, which may include wearing gloves. Place no-touch wastebaskets where they are easy to use. Avoid touching used tissues when emptying wastebaskets, or wear gloves if tissues must be handled. Wash your hands with soap and water after processing waste and dispose of gloves.
  • Stay home if you are a sick and work as a food handler. Influenza viruses from sick food workers can contaminate food if workers do not wash their hands properly, cough, sneeze, or talk over food that will not be cooked (e.g., salads or sandwiches). People who eat contaminated food can then get sick.