As fear of the Ebola virus comes to the United States, so does the worrisome job of cleaning up after this virus. Four days after the first patient in the United States to contract Ebola passed away; his home in Dallas was exactly how he left it. There were dirty sheets and other materials that he had used while sick. Cleaning contractors were apparently too scared to do the job.
Since then, biohazard cleanup crews have decontaminated the space and have responded quickly to the two other cases in Dallas, where two healthcare workers have contracted the virus. Contractors who are normally hired to mop up crime scenes or dispose of bio-hazardous waste have the skills needed to carry out the Ebola cleanups, as well as health care workers.
There is no magical solution that can rid an area of a deadly disease, as the solutions that will be used to clean the area are dependent on the type of pathogen that is present at the time. What kind of cell wall the pathogen has will quickly determine what kind of cleaning solution must be used to eliminate it completely. Now, Ebola is spread through contact with bodily fluids, and it can remain infectious for several hours on doorknobs or countertops or for several days in expelled fluids that are kept at room temperature. But, the good news is that this specific virus is very vulnerable to many forms of chemicals. This means that the virus is very easy to get rid of.
The microbes in Ebola can be killed by UV rays from the sun, or if they’re in fluid, but a simple soap and water solution. There are no cleaning solutions that were made specifically for the cleanup of Ebola, so professionals can use any hospital-grade disinfectant designed for killing viruses such as polio, norovirus, or adenovirus.
To clean an area that an Ebola patient has been staying in, a biohazard worker will need a PPE (the hazmat full-body safety suit) and the right chemicals. The first step is to eliminate any bodily fluids. In the future, people may be spared from almost all contact with cleanup sites, as experts are working on no-touch technologies for sterilizing a hospital room or home. But until then, we will have to continue scrubbing away.
All of this can be very pricy though. As an example, the labor rate for this type of professional cleanup can range anywhere from $50 to $75 an hour per person, often with a minimum of 10 hours per project. The safety equipment alone, which includes gloves, masks, goggles, and disposable suits, may run upward of $100 per usage. And that is without even thinking about the price of the chemicals and the cleaning solutions, which can run from $40 to $60 dollars a case.
But who pays for all of this? In the case of the CDC and other government agencies, that is quite easy to answer: the taxpayers pay for this. The Ebola fight in West Africa could easily cost the United States up to $750 million over the next six months. In the case of businesses, costs will likely be incurred by building owners and tenants.
But, the true cost must take into account indirect costs and the behavior of the consumer. What this means is that businesses will take a hit if someone with Ebola has passed through there. Would you want to go to a hospital where they were currently treating an Ebola patient? Would you want to eat at a restaurant where an infected person may have eaten recently? The choice is entirely the consumer’s and anxiety and fear can definitely define those choices. This can be deadly to small businesses and large corporations as well.