Dealing with Ebola and other Communicable Diseases in Hospitality

The recent Ebola news, combined with the seasonal threat of colds and flu, presents unique challenges to the hospitality industry.  Communicable diseases are spread through direct contact with blood or body fluids.  As such, personal health habits of employees are the first- and most important defense against these diseases. 

Emphasize to your employees the need for frequent – and thorough – hand washing.  While gel hand sanitizers are convenient, they are not a substitute for soap and water, and should only to be used as a stopgap until soap and water are available. 

In addition to frequent and thorough hand-washing, hotel managers should reinforce the following best practices among their housekeeping and laundry staff.  These employees should:

  • Wear disposable, non-latex gloves when touching dirty linens (stripping beds, removing towels, loading washing machines)
  • Wash hands after removing gloves
  • Wash hands before eating, smoking, or applying cosmetics
  • Avoid touching one’s face and eyes until after hands are washed
  • Wash guest linens at maximum cycle length
  • Do not re-use disposable gloves

Universal precautions with respect to exposure to blood and bodily fluids should also be reinforced.  Make sure that protocol is communicated for:

  • Disposal of needles left in guest rooms or rest rooms
  • Disposal of broken glass and razor blades
  • Reporting the existence of blood spills
  • Correct clean-up procedures
  • Training of personnel to clean-up blood and bodily fluids
  • Availability of clean-up kits and appropriate Personal Protective Equipment

In order to prevent the spread of germs, items commonly used by multiple guests – such as laminated room service menus, television remotes, telephone keyboards, computer keyboards, stair railings, and elevator buttons – should be routinely disinfected.  In addition, the cleaning and sanitizing of fitness equipment should be especially diligent.

Food service presents another opportunity to prevent the spread of infectious disease through proper food handling.  Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly washed.  Some viruses are heat-resistant, and can survive temperatures as high as 140 degrees.  Shellfish products may be contaminated, as these are often cooked via a steaming process that is typically faster and at lower temperatures. Make sure food and beverage managers:

  • Throw out any suspect food.  Foods commonly involved include leafy greens, fresh fruits, and shellfish. 
  • Keep sick infants and children out of areas where food is being handled or prepared. 
  • Remind food service employees they should not prepare food or care for others for at least several days after symptoms subside. Many local and state health departments require that food handlers and preparers with the flu, for example, not work until at least 2-3 days after they recover.

Human Resources should communicate information on infection control, hygiene, and the responsibility of employees to call off sick when they experience flu-like symptoms.

For more information, please contact Risk Consultant Anne Jackson at ajackson@rcmd.com.

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