School hygiene essential in holding back new wave of whooping cough

Whooping cough cases are at their highest level for eight years in NSW.

Education and childcare centres are being encouraged to monitor cleaning and hygiene practices as whooping cough rates rocket across Australia. 

For every 100,000 people in New South Wales, there have been 103.1 notifications of whooping cough – also known as pertussis – which is the highest figure since 2016. 

Pertussis isn’t the only respiratory illness in heavy circulation. The number of young children being hospitalised with pneumonia – caused by mycoplasma also spreading among school age children – is double that of last year.

ISSA senior director Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner says that education and training are the most effective way to prevent the spread of diseases such as whooping cough in schools and daycare centres.

“It is critical that teachers, staff and cleaning professionals know how to reduce the spread of germs that cause illness from surfaces and in the air,” Macgregor-Skinner says. 

Bordetella pertussis – the bacterium that causes whooping cough – spreads through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. However, if these droplets land on surfaces and a person touches these surfaces, then touches their mouth, nose or eyes, they can become infected. 

The problem is that because these germs are invisible, it’s impossible to ascertain which surfaces has whooping cough bugson it. 

“Unless the schools and daycare centres implement an effective cleaning and disinfecting program to clean first to remove dirt and germs, and then disinfect that surface you have just cleaned to kill the remaining germs, you really don’t know what you’re facing each time you sit down at your desk or touch a surface that has been contaminated by someone coughing or sneezing.”

Studies have shown that Bordetella pertussis can survive on surfaces for about three to five days under suitable conditions. It has been shown to survive five days on clothes, two days on paper and six days on glass. The exact survival time can vary based on factors like temperature, humidity, and the type of surface.

Professional cleaners can play an essential role in minimising infection, as they have the necessary expertise to perform a regular deep clean, making sure even the hardest places to reach are germ-free.

If whooping cough is going around a school or daycare, one simple step to prevent infection is to check the HVAC or air conditioning system to make sure that the filtration systems and filters are working and maintained and are removing particulates in the air.

Macgregor-Skinner says back-to-basics hand hygiene — which became common practice during the pandemic will help, alongside a minimum daily disinfection.

“I would also highly recommend teachers and school staff have been trained on how to clean and how to use disinfectants correctly and understand the significance of following manufacturers label and guidelines to ensure safety and effectiveness, that includes concentration and how long the surface needs to remain wet, application method, and the user should wear the required personal protective equipment such as rubber gloves, masks and eye protection to avoid exposure to chemicals.”

Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.

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