After more than 35 years in the business of professional cleaning, decontamination, disaster response, sanitation, and disinfection within Singapore and the South East Asian Region, it should come as no surprise that the technical professional and technical advisors at ‘Big Red’ possess a wealth of experience and technical expertise. As such, their opinions are often sought when complex infection control risks arise that need a very high level of professional knowledge and capability to address.
With the emergence of a new variant strain of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK, a strain that is thought to be at least 71% more contagious than the original virus, many people have asked our resident team of professionals for advice on how best to keep themselves and the Citizens of Singapore safe and healthy from this much more contagious strain of the virus. One area of concern that has been highlighted by these inquiries is the role that upholstery, textile, and fabric surfaces, and coverings might play in both harboring and then transmitting the virus to other people via a process of cross-contamination and onward re-infection. Therefore, ‘Big Red’ has asked Prof. Martin A. Blake, their resident Preventive Medicine and Public Health Advisor to share his views on the associated nascent risks and the most appropriate infection control strategies to be adopted.
Absolute and Likely Risks with the New Variant COVID-19 Strain
From a truly global perspective, after living (and sadly, in many cases dying) with the COVID-19 virus, the empirical studies, epidemiological studies, laboratory investigations, clinical trials, and day to day healthcare have led to the Coronavirus being the most studied virus in the history of mankind. Therefore, there is a global plethora of scientific evidence on how the virus is actually transmitted from person to person and place to place. There is no doubt at all that when an individual contracts COVID-19, irrespective of whether they present as symptomatic or asymptomatic, they will begin to shed and spread millions and millions of highly infectious viral particles whenever they breathe, talk, sneeze, cough, sing or shout. Once released into the air or onto any porous or non-porous surfaces, there is a tangible, proven risk of onward re-infection either by the inhalation of airborne viral particles or via cross-contamination via objects and surfaces. Only two weeks ago, just prior to the new variant strain of the COVID-19 being identified, Prof. Martin A. Blake ‘Big Red’s’ resident Preventive Medicine and Infection Control specialist stated:
“It has become very clear over the last twelve-months that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a highly contagious, virulent infectious disease and it is extremely capable of both direct and indirect transmission, hence its rapid spread from country to country, place to place and person to person. It’s propensity to spread so easily is the distinguishing factor that has enabled it to move from a single city in China to become a global pandemic. Therefore, wherever there is a possibility that a particular surface might harbor the COVID-19 virus, it is prudent that we should take all the necessary steps to eliminate any viral load that we know might be lingering somewhere as a potential reservoir of disease transmission”
Earlier this week, following the emergence of the new dominant strain of COVID-19, Prof. Blake reiterated his earlier warnings and with an addendum as follows:
“Only a couple of weeks ago, I pointed out the latent risks of cross-contamination and onward infection by this highly contagious, virulent virus that has become infamous by its ability to spread with significant ease from place to place and person to person and notorious by its ability to make people very sick and in two million cases, go on to kill them. Therefore, the emergence of a new more contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus needs to be treated very, very seriously indeed. This new variant has already been shown to be more than 70% more contagious than the original strains. Therefore, if we needed to be careful, vigilant, and diligent before, now we need to ‘raise our game’ even further and leave (almost literally) no stone unturned in destroying all traces of this virus, wherever it may hide and linger, waiting to infect its next innocent victim”
Unfortunately, this new dominant strain is not just a little more contagious than its predecessors but has already shown that its introduction into any given community will probably increase that community’s ‘R Number’ by an average of 0.5 above the previous prevailing reinfection rate. Whilst precise empirical scientific data is still emerging, this new strain of COVID-19 virus has become more transmissible by a process of mutation as follows:
- Positive individuals with the more contagious strain of the COVID-19 virus will shed significantly larger numbers of infectious viral particles
- Paradoxically, because this strain of the virus is more contagious, a lower viral load is actually required for re-infection
- This new strain of the virus remains airborne and thus, potentially more infectious for longer
- Similarly, this new dominant viral strain can also remain infectious on objects and surfaces, including upholstery, textiles and fabric covered surfaces for longer periods of time
Last week, based on these recent developments, the increased transmissibility of the new more contagious variant strains Prof. Blake of ‘Big Red’ added:
“Immediate action needs to be taken by other countries around the world, as transmission and infection by this new genetic strain of COVID-19 is right now, a real tangible risk, not a perceived risk. It would be incredibly foolish to assume that this highly infectious variant of the virus has been successfully contained within the United Kingdom and that it has not already spread by air-travel to other parts of the world where it will also, just like in the UK, become the dominant more dangerous variant of the disease.”
Since making that statement last week, the virus has now been identified as the emerging dominant strain in several other European countries as well as in Sydney, Australia. So, it is clear that the new variant of this deadly virus is literally (and metaphorically) already ‘in the air’ and possibly traveling to a space near you, which is why, all spaces that we choose to occupy, including upholstery, textiles, and fabric-covered surfaces require an even more rigorous cleaning and disinfection protocol to be adopted.
Infection Control Overview
From a cleaning and disinfection perspective, the actual basic principles of hygiene and infection control regarding this more infectious strain of the COVID-19 virus remain the same: ‘Clean – Kill – Protect – Maintain’. However, because the virus is now more easily transmissible and thus more contagious, we just need to follow these basic, integrated principles more thoroughly, more diligently and more often.
Principle One: ‘Clean’ – Preparatory Pre-cleaning and Sanitising
Most people are now already aware that the COVID-19 virus is very easily spread by airborne transmission and this particular strain even more so. Therefore, even if there is a small chance that the fabrics and materials in question may have become contaminated, it is essential that the chances of the virus being re-launched back into the air are minimized. This can be accomplished in the following ways:
- Do not vacuum the fabrics and materials in question. It is important not to cause unnecessary agitation or disturbance that could cause contagious viral particles becoming launched into the air again and actually increasing, not decreasing the risk of transmission and onward infection.
- Instead of dry-vacuuming, before disturbing any fabrics or materials, first damp them down slightly with a light misting of an appropriately diluted sanitizing agent. Suitable agents can be found within the EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 as all the disinfectants included on this list have been certified to be effective in destroying the COVID-19 virus.
Once the damping down process has been completed, all small pieces of fabric that can be machine washed should be carefully contained within plastic bags and sent to the laundry for washing in accordance with the manufacturer’s instruction, but wherever possible, on the highest temperature setting possible. All larger pieces of upholstery or surfaces covered with textiles and fabrics that cannot be laundered should once be damped down be treated in accordance with the remaining three principles.
Principle Two: ‘Kill’ – Destroy the Virus ‘in-situ’ Wherever it Might be Hiding
According to the team at ‘Big Red’ there are two methods that can be effectively used to disinfect upholstery, fabrics and textiles in order to completely destroy the pathogenic organisms that they might be harboring, including the COVID-19 virus. The choice between the two preferred methods, depends entirely on the characteristics of the material in question, but this very simple algorithm will determine the correct choice:
A. Is the upholstery, fabric or textile in question suitable for ‘High Temperature Steam Extraction Shampooing’; ‘Yes’ or ‘No’? If the answer is ‘Yes’ then this is the technology of choice!
B. If the answer to ‘A’ above is ‘No’ then disinfection with a nebulised and ionically charged solution of hydrogen peroxide is the technology of choice! Now we can examine both of these technologies in turn.
High-Temperature Steam Extraction Shampooing: While the upholstery, fabrics, and textiles are still damp from their pre-treatment with an approved sanitizing agent, they should then be subjected to a thorough process of high-temperature steam extraction cleaning which as advised by Prof. Blake at ‘Big Red’ is the preferred way of killing any bacteria and viral particles that might still be concealed within the fabric of the materials themselves. In addition to the scalding moist heat generated in the process, ‘Big Red’ also recommend augmenting the cleaning and disinfection process with a disinfectant/detergent shampoo that is included within the EPA’s ‘N List’ as this potent combination of moist heat and disinfectant will destroy all pathogenic organisms immediately upon contact.
Nebulised and Ionically Charged Hydrogen Peroxide: For any upholstery, fabrics, or textiles that cannot be subjected to high temperatures or the physical process of steam cleaning and extraction, then the alternative recommended by ‘Big Red’ depends on the structure of the very fabric itself being penetrated by a highly pervasive nebulized, ionically charged vapor of Hydrogen Peroxide.
This application method known as ‘BRMist’ is extremely efficient and can deliver what is known as a 6 Log Kill by instantaneously killing 99.9999% of all pathogenic organisms that may be present, and which actually renders the material effectively ‘sterile’.
However, irrespective of which of the above two choices are selected, Prof. Blake of ‘Big Red’ further states that all such treatments can only guarantee that the upholstery, fabrics and textiles will remain totally free from onward transmission risk up until the next COVID-19 positive individual shedding contagious viral particles re-contaminates them again. This is why, ‘Big Red’ also advocates a further step of long-term residual antimicrobial protection.
Principle Three: ‘Protect’ Against Recontamination with a 24/7 Antimicrobial Surface Treatment
Once the upholstery, textiles, and fabrics in question have been pre-treated and then disinfected in accordance with Principle One and Two they can for the moment (with the operative word being ‘moment’) be considered completely risk free in terms of still being a potential reservoir of contagion and onward infection only until such time as they become re-contaminated again. This is because no matter how clean and sterile the materials and fabrics have become, all standard disinfectants have no residual antimicrobial properties at all, and therefore, as soon as another COVID-19 positive individual enters the space, whilst shedding huge numbers of contagious viral particles, the situation returns, by default to the same level of risk as before. Therefore, ‘Big Red’ also firmly advocates a further step in the process, by treating all surfaces within the area (both porous and non-porous) with a residual, long-lasting antimicrobial surface protection treatment such as ‘BRShield’ which is capable of delivering total, ongoing protection from viral re-contamination and onward infection on a 24/7 basis for 180 days following the application.
‘BRShield’ is an organo-silane formulation, that is capable of chemically bonding to all surfaces (including upholstery, textiles, and fabrics) at the molecular level and once bonded, provides all treated surfaces with semi-permanent, broad-spectrum, antimicrobial properties. Once endowed with the ongoing power to kill new ‘inbound’ viral particles (as well as all other pathogenic microbes) immediately upon their arrival, the surfaces can remain classified as a ‘zero-risk’ of contagion and infection for some considerable time. In fact, ‘Big Red’ is so confident of this that they offer a guarantee of 24/7 protection for at least 180 days from the date of treatment. Finally, once this third step in the process has been completed, ‘Big Red’ suggests that only basic housekeeping is required throughout that 180-day period.
Principle Four: ‘Maintain’ with Ongoing Routine Housekeeping
In order to maintain the treatment in an optimal condition for infection control purposes only minimal ongoing routine maintenance is required to keep the ‘BRShield’ efficiently energized and thereby remain effective and efficient in destroying all inbound pathogenic microbes. The following housekeeping protocol is recommended for all treated areas:
- Vacuum regularly to prevent dust, debris, and detritus degrading the ability of ‘BRShield’ to kill pathogens.
- Additionally, it is better to use a vacuum machine fitted with a HEPA filter so that all debris, no matter how small is safely captured and not recirculated back into the air.
As is usually the case with Preventive Medicine issues, there is no such thing as a ‘one-stop-shop’ in cleaning, killing, and protecting against disease transmission, instead, it requires a carefully coordinated approach as described above.
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- How to Leave Coronavirus Behind When You Come Home
- How to Clean and Disinfect Your Home: Limiting Coronavirus Exposure