The abuse of disinfection! When zeal is as harmful as negligence

At the outset, it is important for me to tell you that I am totally FOR disinfection. I am a microbiologist and I have been developing training courses on hygiene and sanitation for many years. So, I am biased in favor of anything that has to do with disinfection. However, I am an advocate of thoughtful disinfection and the judicious use of our battle weapons. There is no need to use a bazooka to kill a fly. For COVID-19, we need to take into consideration the evolving scientific findings, face the facts and change our precepts; surface disinfection will not make a significant difference in the transmission of the virus.

At the very beginning of the pandemic, we firmly believed that COVID-19 could be transmitted through surfaces. It was legitimate and entirely sensible and reasonable, at that time, to adhere to that belief. It was also THE most common preventive position in the world to ensure that the transmission of a previously unknown infection was limited.


As the months pass, more and more studies are being done on the survival time of COVID-19 on surfaces. Three hours, 12 hours, 3 days, I have even seen up to 17 days on surfaces! However, the survival time of a germ on a surface does not necessarily mean that it is still infectious.


In the last 2-3 months, it has become apparent that COVID-19 is more likely to be transmitted by droplets, close contact, and possibly even by aerosols that would remain airborne. Currently, there are only a few case studies that report probable transmission through a freshly contaminated surface, but this remains difficult to prove definitively as it is impossible to exclude respiratory transmission. Reports show that hand hygiene is a more effective barrier to virus transmission than surface disinfection.


Just two weeks ago, the CDC in the United States published a very clear update on surface transmission of COVID-19: this virus is very poorly transmitted through surfaces, the risk of contracting COVID-19 on an object and becoming contaminated is very low. They even suggest a one in 10,000 chance.


For the moment, no official provincial or national authority, whether it be Public Health or the CNESST, has yet commented or backed down on the recommendations regarding disinfection (frequency and lists of objects to be disinfected).


In light of this information, why is surface disinfection so overly promoted?


Surface disinfection is effective and recommended to prevent infection if you live in the same house as someone who has contracted COVID-19, but disinfection of indoor and outdoor public areas does not seem to be as effective.


It is important to note that studies show that the extensive use of disinfectants has already caused a significant increase in respiratory problems, such as asthma, in the population. There are also many more incidents of poisoning from disinfectant chemicals as reported by an increase in calls to poison control centers across the country.


On the other hand, disinfection has a major advantage. By eliminating all other surface-borne infections such as colds, flu, gastroenteritis, and others, it makes it easier to identify people who are infected with COVID-19 since virtually no other infections are currently circulating. Now so deeply anchored in our habits, disinfection is closely linked to the safety of public environments and will henceforth be required and highly valued by the population. Disinfection must absolutely be maintained as part of a sanitation program, not only for its effects on public health but also for its contribution to alleviating people's concerns.


In short, without putting a stop to disinfection, the time has come to revisit your disinfection practices, because over-disinfecting can cost you a lot of money...I am not urging you to let your guard down, I am inviting you to change your battle weapons. There is a popular expression that reflects the current situation: "Too much is not enough!" In other words, overzealousness can be as bad as negligence. The first thing to do is to check whether you are disinfecting too much, too little, or just enough. Assess the risks associated with your environment and adjust your disinfection frequencies accordingly while respecting the standards in effect in your province.


As mentioned above, I promote fair and thoughtful disinfection. Please do not eliminate this step from your protocols. The message I am trying to communicate is that you should not be afraid to change your mind out of fear of appearing confused, nor should you do what everyone else is doing just to comply. If I change my mind and adjust my speech, it is not because I am acting as a weathervane, it's simply because I'm getting informed, I'm staying up to date and I'm making well thought-out decisions. This is what I invite you to do as well to adapt your disinfection protocols to your own situation! If you need help, the experts at ValkarTech are always there to help you.

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