When we talk about the health risks associated with abatement and remediation jobs in hospitals, bacteria and viruses are among the top concerns. These microscopic hazards are easily spread and impossible to see, making them major threats.

Bacteria has similar growth requirements as mold – it thrives in dark places and warm temperatures, and requires water to survive. Because bacteria is organic – or derived from living organisms – it can spread without a host. That’s why bacteria can be found on surfaces as well as in and on humans.

Unlike bacteria, viruses are microscopic disease-causing agents that require a host in order to multiply – i.e., humans. They are not considered living organisms, and as such, are unable to be killed by antibiotics and other medications used to treat bacterial illness.

The Risks

We discussed a few of the most dangerous bacterial illnesses that are common in hospitals earlier this month, including Tuberculosis (TB), Clostridium difficile (C. diff), MRSA, and Legionella. Knowing how often these diseases are acquired in hospitals, consider how they spread:

  • TB is the cause of approximately 1,500,000 annual deaths worldwide. Individuals can develop the disease when exposed to infected individuals. It spreads through the air, making it a major concern when someone acquires it. In most cases when TB is discovered, everyone who has come in contact with that person recently has to get tested for it, creating a widespread sense of worry and adding up in time and money spent on tracking down exposed individuals and testing.
  • C. diff is transmitted by touching a contaminated surface. It has the ability to survive for an exceptionally long time, making it a threat long after an infected person has healed and left the hospital. Allowing any of this bacteria to spread can lead to more cases of the illness down the road, even if the most immediate population doesn’t seem affected. C. diff causes approximately 28,000 deaths annually.
  • MRSA is considered a “superbug” because it is resistant to antibiotics and thus has a long lifespan. It is transmitted through openings in the skin, especially open cuts or scrapes. Direct contact with an infected person or a contaminated object can cause infection. There are 2.5 million carriers of MRSA in the US alone, and 18,650 deaths annually.
  • Legionella is a type of bacteria that multiplies in stagnant water and causes illness when airborne water droplets containing it are inhaled. Legionella is especially dangerous when acquired in a hospital – with a staggering 40% mortality rate among those who pick up the infection when already in the hospital. Understanding that this disease can spread through invisible water particles in the air is critical.

Viruses are not always spread as easily as bacteria since they cannot live outside of a host, but they come with their own set of risks. Since they cannot be treated with antibiotics, viral diseases are often left to run their course with medications used to control symptoms, if applicable, or become long-term infections that can only be managed rather than treated. Because of this, preventing the spread of viruses is an extremely high priority. Illnesses such as Hepatitis A, B, and C, HIV, and Norovirus are among the most well-known – and most dangerous – viral diseases picked up in hospitals.

Preventing Infection

Understanding the risks is only the first part of a safe and successful abatement or remediation job in a hospital – being prepared with the tools you need to ensure an airtight containment system is how you implement that knowledge.

Bacteria and viruses can spread through porous materials – even though you can’t see them. That’s why poly sheeting and robust tapes are used to build containment systems. A duct tape is typically used to secure the poly sheeting to doorways, windows, and other openings out of the area being worked on, while a painter’s tape is often used to mask off those areas and provide a removable surface for the poly sheeting and duct tape to adhere to.

The duct tape is the most critical tool – it needs to have a backing that is durable and resistant to the environmental conditions of the jobsite, whether it will require kicking up dust, working in an unconditioned space, or exposure to moisture and humidity. Using a poor quality tape can result in flagging, which would compromise the airtight seal on your containment system and put the people in the building at risk of infection.

Best Practice

Even if the job at hand doesn’t require cleaning up hazardous or infected materials, any kind of construction project in a hospital can cause illness to spread when not properly conducted. Consider the tools you use for the job, as well as the materials you bring in and out. Will you be sharing an elevator with patients? If so, there is a chance that your tools could come in contact with a microscopic hazard like illness-causing bacteria. If you are coming in contact with a health hazard during the job, be sure to follow proper procedure for the removal of infected materials. Bed sheets are not a proper covering for a bin of infected waste – microorganisms can escape through the porous fabric and end up in every wing of the hospital. Always be prepared to provide a non-porous, airtight means of transporting waste and infected materials away from the work site and the end of a job.

To learn more about choosing tape for critical hospital abatement and remediation jobs, visit Shurtape.com.

Follow along next week for the last topic in our Under the Microscope Series!