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Friday, November 27, 2015

A cold or being cold – the glove and scarf trade off

There are some lucky people who never have to deal with the frigid cold of winter.  I know there are lots of people who enjoy winter, but I on the other hand am fine to see a skiff of snow on Christmas morning and then want to be back in sandal weather – or at the very least bare foot weather temperatures immediately thereafter.  This detest of cold weather is somewhat contradictory as I happen to love crocheting – scarves and hats in particular. 

It was then with a heavy heart that I read a recent APIC email that gloves and scarves are germy.  I love scarves.  They are great accent pieces to virtually any outfit and there’s such satisfaction in completing a crochet project and getting to wear a new scarf.  I’m not advanced enough to crochet gloves or mitts, but I can state with conviction that I start wearing gloves as soon as my steering wheel is cold to touch in the morning.  They’re a necessary piece of attire during the winter – unless you want frost bite that is.  And now I’m being told scarves and gloves germy?  It’s more than my already germophobic mind can take!   

But I suppose if I put my logic hat on it’s not really surprising.  There’s a ton of literature talking to the number of times we touch our faces with our hands.  Why would this stop when we put on winter gloves?  In fact, it likely increases because what does your nose do in the cold?  It runs.  What do you do when that happens and you do not have ready access to a tissue?  You casually dab your nose with your gloved hand.  Gross right?  It gets better.  Similar to touching our faces, over the course of the day we are constantly touching things with our hands; door handles, railings and other surfaces that have been touched by hundreds or thousands of people who had walked the same route ahead of you.  Did you dab your nose with your hand  before or after touching all those public spaces?

It really doesn’t matter, the ugly truth is that gloves like your bare hands pick up everything - and when was the last time you washed your gloves?  The gloves I generally wear are leather or suede...I’ve NEVER washed them!  According to  APIC, missive gloves can carry bacteria such as E. coli and viruses such as the cold virus or flu virus.  To make matters worse, the type of material your gloves are made from can directly impact the ease of transferring germs.....leather gloves of course being amongst the worse due to the ease with which they can transfer germs to another surface or face....... 

Now for my beloved scarves - the flu virus can live on clothing like scarves for two or three days, while diarrhea-causing viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus, may thrive for as many as four weeks!  How many times have you coughed into your scarf...or used your scarf to dab your nose?  Thankfully I do tend to wash my scarves with some frequency, but only because I love the feel of a downy soft scarf next to my neck and face. 

While I am unaware of scientific studies that support all this, the International Forum on Home Hygiene put together a wonderful white paper in 2011 titled "The infection risks associated with clothing and other household linens in home and everyday life settings, and the role of laundry” which talks to the fact that clothes, like any other hand contact site, have the potential to be a link in the chain of infection transmission during normal daily activities.  

Thankfully, my current crochet project is a blanket for my nephew, but I do have 3 skeins of beautiful super soft chunky yarn waiting for me to make my next hat and scarf combo!  I’ll be sure to wash them more frequently; I’m just not sure what I’m going to do about my gloves!

Bugging Off!





Friday, November 20, 2015

Investigation into Infections Leads to Dead End

It’s not often you read an article where an investigation has been halted because the source of an infection cannot be found, but that seems to be the case in Toronto.  For an unknown reason there has been a 78% increase in the number of Torontonians testing positive for Mycobacterium avium – to put that number into perspective that equates to 66 new cases each month between June 2014 and June 2015!

While there is cause for concern, there is no need for people to panic.  Most people who become infected by M. avium have underlying conditions such as age, HIV-positive and those with pre-existing lung problems.  The unfortunate truth is that most people who become ill end up with lung damage and develop reoccurring lung infections, as the main symptoms are similar in nature to Tuberculosis.  M. avium is ubiquitous in nature and has been isolated from fresh and salt water worldwide. The common environmental sources include; aerosolized water, piped hot water systems (including household and hospital water supplies), house dust, soil, birds, farm animals and cigarette components (e.g., tobacco, filters, paper).
Transmission is generally thought to be due to inhalation of environmentally derived airborne organisms rather than person to person, however, oral ingestion may also be a route of infection but is generally considered more likely in the immunocompromised host.  Because it is primarily transmitted by inhaling droplets of water, municipal water supplies are often the original source – but it’s important to understand that drinking water is not how you’re going to get it.  Total eradication of the bacteria from municipal water supplies is virtually impossible as the bacterium tends to grow in biofilms that are known to line the large water pipes used in municipal water distribution systems. 
While this current situation is associated with humans, M. avium can also cause infections in pigs, domestic and wild birds, cattle, sheep, goats, cats and dogs.  However, the mechanism of transmission and type of infection can vary greatly.  Domestic and wild birds become infected by ingesting contaminating food and/or soil.  Similarly, other animals can be infected by ingesting contaminated soil or infected poultry.  The long and the short is that due to the ubiquitous nature of this bacterium it’s impossible to avoid being exposed to the bacteria.  The best way to prevent developing the disease is to keep your immune system strong. 
As for Toronto, numerous experts want to see the spike in cases investigated further.  While there does not seem to be a specific area of the city impacted more than others or clustering of cases that could be associated with environmental exposure, it is obvious that by the sudden spike in cases in June of last year that there was a tipping point when something changed and it certainly would be nice to get to the bottom of it!
Bugging Off!


Friday, November 13, 2015

Hunters beware - wild animals bite back!

While not everyone condones hunting, it is that time of year and for some it may be the primary way of filling a freezer with meat for the coming year.  Hunting does have its perks - spending time outside enjoying the beautiful views and appreciating the world we have the fortune to live in, but it also has it’s downsides - like zoonotic diseases.  Case in point was an alert from a Public Health Unit in Ontario, Canada about the first case of Tularemia.

Tularemia, also known as Rabbit Fever, is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis which occurs naturally worldwide.  Rabbits and other wild rodents such as squirrels are the primary species affected, but it can also infect beavers and muskrats, livestock such as horses, pigs and sheep and pets such as dogs and cats.  Tularemia bacteria can be found in the organs or body fluids of infected animals, which can contaminate the environment.  It is a hardy organism that can live for long periods of time in soil, vegetation and water.  Tularemia is transmitted to animals by ingesting contaminated raw meat or drinking contaminated water, inhaling the bacteria, direct contact with contaminated environment, being bitten by an infected animal, or from biting flies or ticks.  People similarly can get Tularemia in the exact same manner.

The disease itself varies depending on the route of exposure.  Initially flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headache and joint pain may occur.  Glands (lymph nodes) may become swollen and painful and may break open and drain pus.  Other symptoms such as skin rash, sore throat or swelling of the eyes can occur, as can coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath and severe pneumonia if the lungs become infected.

Because of its ubiquitous nature, Tularemia is difficult to prevent.  Prevention measures include keeping pets indoors and away from wildlife and not feeding them raw meat from wild animals.  Hunters are at higher risk of exposure because of the handling of wild game carcasses and therefore need to avoid contacting sick animals, handling dead wildlife without gloves (hint, hint to my niece!) and ensuring that they wash their hands after touching any animal particularly before eating!

We cannot underestimate our daily and often seemingly innocent interactions with nature.  While our greatest chance of being infected directly is through contact with infected animals, the environment itself can be easily contaminated as well and we need to be cognizant of the fact that the air we breathe or the water we drink while enjoying nature may be carrying something we had not intended to pick up.

Bugging Off!


Friday, November 6, 2015

In the EYE of the beholder

Flu season is officially here!  The geographic distribution of confirmed flu cases has been steadily increasing week over week – 6 US states are reporting regional distribution this week, which doubled from last week.  The unfortunate truth is that it’s not possible to predict what this flu season will be like. While the flu spreads every year, the timing, severity, and length of the season is unpredictable. Generally, seasonal flu activity occurs between October and May with it peaking in North America between December and February.  In my neck of the woods (Ontario, Canada) we see our biggest peak during the week of Christmas....not the type of present most of us are dreaming of!

As we’ve done a number of blogs on influenza, I’m not going to repeat signs, symptoms or hints to keeping you healthy.  However, after reading an interesting summary of a survey conducted by the CDC highlighting the fact that almost all of the 41 million estimated contact lens wearers in the United States are engaging in at least one behavior known to increase their risk of eye infections, I thought it would be the perfect reminder of how cold and flu viruses are spread.  The survey concluded that more than 99% of survey respondents reported at least one risky behavior such as; keeping their contact lens cases for longer than recommended (82%); “Topping off” solution in the case—adding new solution to the existing solution instead of emptying the case out fully before adding new solution (55%); or wearing their lenses while sleeping (50%).

So let’s talk about risky behavior.  Topping off with any form of disinfectant is a BAD idea.  You need the right concentration to kill bugs.  I’m surprised they didn’t ask the question to find out if people perform hand hygiene before putting in, taking out or adjusting contacts. If we are going to talk about risky business, that is definitely one of them!

Most cough, cold and flu viruses are believed to be passed from person to person by contact with respiratory droplets through direct bodily contact (such as kissing) or touching something with virus on it (such as shaking hands with someone who has the flu) and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.   Combine this with the fact there is a plethora of scientific evidence that people touch their faces an average of 3.6 times per hour, and common objects an average of 3.3 times per hour means that germs get on our hands much more frequently than we wash them off!  Being a person who used to wear contacts, I know that I had a horrible rate of self-touching - in fact I stopped wearing contacts due to dry eyes which lead to my constantly rubbing or touching them with my fingers which eventually lead to getting an ulcer.

As peak flu season is only 6 weeks away, I hope you’ll start thinking about where your fingers have been - and if you wear contacts ensure that you wash your hands before you touch your eyes to avoid your risk of getting the flu!

Bugging Off!