Hepatitis A: Overview & Disinfection Guidelines

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by the Hepatitis A virus (HAV). HAV is found in the blood and stool of infected people. Hepatitis A is highly contagious and usually transmitted by the fecal-oral route, either through person-to-person contact or consumption of contaminated food or water. Contamination can occur when infected individuals do not wash their hands properly after using the restroom and then touch other surfaces or food items. A person infected with HAV can spread the disease to others anytime from 1 to 2 weeks before symptoms appear, through one week after symptoms occur. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), more than 30 states have been affected by Hepatitis A outbreaks since 2016. Hepatitis A can range from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months. Unlike Hepatitis B and C, HAV infection does not cause long-term, chronic liver disease. Most people who become infected with Hepatitis A are only sick for a few weeks. However, in rare cases, HAV infection can cause liver failure and death. For long-term protection, the Hepatitis A Vaccine is the best method of prevention. This article will cover the importance of proper cleaning and disinfection protocols to prevent the spread of Hepatitis A.  First, let's take a look at the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting: 

What's the Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, & Disinfecting? 

Cleaning: The Process of Removing Germs

Cleaning involves removing dirt, grime, food residue, bodily fluids, and other debris from surfaces. This process leaves surfaces looking shiny and clean. Soap (or detergent) and water might be used in this process. However, general cleaners such as soap and water or conventional all-purpose cleaners are not designed to eliminate pathogens that can cause an illness, nor are they registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Cleaning is the first step to a complete process of preventing illness. 

Sanitizing: The Process of Reducing Germs

Sanitization is a step beyond cleaning. Sanitizers reduce (but do not entirely eliminate) microorganisms on a surface to a level considered safe by public health standards. 

Disinfecting: The Process of Killing Germs 

To disinfect a surface means to eliminate pathogens and disease-causing microorganisms. The critical difference between sanitizing and disinfecting is that sanitizers reduce microorganisms on surfaces to a level considered safe by public health standards. On the other hand, a Hospital-Grade Disinfectant, such as Vital Oxide, kills nearly 100% of bacteria, viruses, and fungi on hard, non-porous surfaces. Vital Oxide meets surface disinfection recommendations from OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogen Standards for Hepatitis A, as well as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV-1.  The standard is lower for sanitizers, which must reduce microorganisms on a surface by 99.9% within 30 seconds. To qualify as a disinfectant, the EPA requires that the solution reduces the levels of pathogens by 99.999% in five to ten minutes. Vital Oxide is an all-in-one cleaner, sanitizer, and disinfectant product that can be used for this pre-cleaning step. 

Hepatitis A Disinfection Guidelines 

Here are some general disinfection steps to follow to reduce the spread of illness. 

  • Clean Surfaces 

  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and two layers of gloves. 
  • Use disposable absorbent material (paper towels or other disposable cloth) to wipe up any visible dirt and debris. Follow up by spraying and wiping the area clean with a cleaning product
  • Discard soiled items (including the first set of gloves) carefully in an impervious plastic trash bag. 
  • If using soap and water, bleach, detergent, or a standard all-purpose cleaner, thoroughly rinse the area with clean water, and dry using paper towels. If using Vital Oxide to clean and disinfect, there is no need to rinse prior to disinfection. 
  • Disinfect Surfaces 

  • Apply a disinfectant that is EPA-registered and approved to kill HAV, such as Vital Oxide, following the directions on the product's label (see Vital Oxide's label here) for the recommended dwell time (also known as "contact time"). In the case of Hepatitis A, Vital Oxide should be allowed to dwell for five minutes. If using Vital Oxide, there is no need to rinse following disinfection or sanitization, even on food-contact surfaces. In addition to being a Hospital-Grade Disinfectant, Vital Oxide is also an NSF-certified (no rinse required) food-contact sanitizer
  • If using bleach or other approved disinfectant, make sure to thoroughly rinse the surface with water after disinfecting. 
  • Clean Soiled Items 

  • Take off gloves, gown, and mask (in that order) and discard before exiting the clean-up area. 
  • Seal and dispose of the trash bag. 
  • Re-glove and transport the bag to a secure trash container. 
  • If needed, wash soiled clothing in hot water and add a sanitizer (such as Vital Oxide) according to laundering instructions to sanitize. 
  • Wash Hands 

  • Always wash your hands after handling any contaminated material, trash, or waste. 
  • Use soap and warm water. 
  • Rub hands together for at least 20 seconds. 
  • Rinse hands in warm water. 

Surfaces to Disinfect to Stop the Spread of HAV 

To stop the spread of HAV and other bloodborne pathogens, it's essential to frequently clean and disinfect (or sanitize) high-touch surfaces, such as: 

  • Restroom surfaces 
  • Light switch plates 
  • High chairs 
  • Kitchen surfaces 
  • Food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, countertops, cooking equipment, etc.)
  • Phones 
  • Shared electronics (tablets, computer keyboards, etc.) 
  • Tables and chairs 
  • Doorknobs 
  • Wheelchairs and walkers 
  • Recreation equipment 
  • Railings 
  • Remote controls 

Final Thoughts 

Cleaning services, healthcare workers, and janitorial staff all play an important role in infection prevention. Along with bloodborne pathogens training, understanding the importance of proper cleaning and disinfection can go a long way to stop the spread of Hepatitis A and other bloodborne pathogens.