As the Omnicron wave of coronavirus infections continues to spread across the UK and the Government vows to do all it can to keep schools open, it’s clear that taking measures to prevent the spread of viruses in educational settings has never been more important.
But aside from fresh air, rigorous cleaning schedules and face coverings, what else can be done to protect pupils and staff?
Recent reports have outlined that the Government has made 7,000 air filter units available to schools in a bid to filter coronavirus particles from the air.
It’s a move that has been criticised not just for the fact that this number is nowhere near enough to cover 300,000 classrooms in England alone. Some experts in the field of infection control also question the effectiveness of air filters in stopping the spread of airborne viruses.
Oxford-based Airdri has always been at the forefront of hand hygiene technology, having manufactured market-leading hand-dryers for the past 50 years.
During the pandemic the company flexed its offering and is now a leading provider of air sanitisation units.
Here, operations director Steve Whittall outlines the clear differences between air filtration and air sanitisation, as well as outlining some of the other steps that schools could take to limit the spread of viruses in their facilities.
The most effective method of infection control in schools
“One of the main ways that illnesses, including coronavirus, can spread through schools is via airborne particles which are then directly inhaled, or can land on surfaces where they recolonise and can be transferred into a host via their hands.
A single bacteria cell can multiply eight million times in an eight-hour period, which can be a huge problem with multiple pupils and staff touching many different surfaces each day.
“Cross infection control needs to be in place to ensure confidence and safety, but to be most effective, it needs to be a method that tackles both airborne and surface bacteria.
“Air purifiers and air filtration systems that use HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, will reduce the number of airborne pathogens in a room as they work by trapping micro-organisms in fine fibres arranged into a matt to intercept particles.
“However, the main issue with this type of system is that to effectively eradicate a virus and stop it from spreading, all of the air in the room must pass through the filter.
“There is also the issue that some viruses are so small that they flow straight through the filters and escape back into the air. This method also does not sanitise surfaces and requires regular filter changes, which can be costly.
“Other infection control systems, such as smoke bombing/chemical fogging, involve the act of spraying a fine coating of disinfectant chemicals across an entire room.
“These are equally costly, require rooms to be empty for a prolonged period of time and must be repeated regularly for a school to reap the benefits. It’s more a method of decontamination rather than ongoing bacteria control.
“Air sanitisations units such as Airdri’s SteraSpace systems work differently to control infections by killing bacteria and viruses, mould and fungi. As an added advantage the units also remove pollen, pollution, smoke and odours.”
The SteraSpace range from Airdri works by producing a continuous flow of disinfecting plasma into the air, generated by combining photo catalytic disinfection, germicidal irradiation, and dual waveband UV technology.
The technology has been tested at respected UK laboratories and is proven to kill 98.11% of airborne and 99.6% of surface micro-organisms.
Tested on bacteria and viruses surrogates, the technology has been proven to eliminate 92.17% of airborne MS2 coliphage in 5 minutes and 98.11% of airborne Staph epidermidis in 5 minutes, they are also proven to eliminate particles down to 0.0001 microns in size
Find out more about SteraSpace air sanitisation units here.
The importance of drying hands
Air sanitisation, Steve believes, coupled with continued good hand hygiene practises and more education on how viruses spread could be key to tackling infection control in schools.
Not just because once installed, they are a very low-maintenance method of reducing viruses in the air.
But when it comes to the economic factors, SteraSpace is a more cost-effective option too – the units cost as little as £2 a month to run, with an annual outlay of around £50 for a new lamp.
“It’s really important that we look at all ways that viruses are spread when looking to reduce transmission,” continues Steve.
“So, the fact that SteraSpace sanitises both surfaces and the air is a huge bonus. But that’s not enough to completely stop viruses from circulating.
“I think we’ve all learnt more about hand hygiene during the pandemic, it really is important to continue to keep up with the more stringent handwashing and crucially, drying.
“Bacteria thrives in a damp environment, so teaching children to dry their hands thoroughly is another weapon in our arsenal.
“This can be particularly difficult to police in younger children, which is why we’ve just launched a new child-friendly hand dryer, the Kiddi Quad, that aims to get young children used to the sights and sounds of the washroom. The optimum drying time is 15 seconds.”
Keeping hand hygiene on the agenda
To help launch the Kiddi Quad child-friendly hand dryer, Airdri has also enlisted the help of a team of squeaky-clean superheroes – The Handwashing Heroes – to help remind children of the importance of hand hygiene during the winter months.
Free resources including posters, sticker charts and stickers aimed at encouraging children to wash and dry their hands properly have been sent to all schools in the area local to the company.
Posters are free for any school or organisation to download and print here.