Monthly Archives: October 2014

Get shot of Halloween

Flu is not Ebola – but it can still kill you

Trick or treat. Jab or jolly. It’s your choice.

Best to go for the jab though – it’s that time of year.

Too many of those fruity shooters on the Big Night and you don’t know your whatever from your elbow.

Just a cold, huh?

You stagger home in the rain and sure as anything, it gets you. Only a sniffle, you think – with the room still going round the next morning.

Then you throw up on the Piccadilly Line on the way to the office.

“Wild mixing”, you mumble to your horrified companions.

“Ebola,” they shout – and you’re strong-armed off at Leicester Square by a bunch of hazmat hoodies.

Mistaken identity

You know the truth, but they’re not taking any chances. And how were you to know that first-week symptoms are the same for flu and Ebola? Or that tequila, peach schnapps and malibu rum would have such an effect?

Mind you, flu’s not nice at the best of times. Miserable, headaches, sore throat, aches in the joints – your own mini-Ebola.

Flu by numbers

Not to be played with either – 31,100 deaths in England and Wales last year (the Scots know better, they stick to whisky). Ordinary innocent people done in by what they call Excess Winter Mortality, a Whitehall-ese catch-all for colds, flu and pneumonia – doesn’t matter which, it will kill you anyway.

And those were figures for a mild winter – not the perisher we look set for after the warmest weather in yonks.

Ordinary common or garden flu, we’re talking – not the Spanish variety that killed 100 million back in 1918, more than the whole of World War One – or Hong Kong flu, a tiddler that only killed 33,800 in 1968.

Super-contagious – atishoo!

Yes, Ebola’s dangerous, but the current outbreak is low at 10,000 deaths world-wide. And you can’t catch it if somebody sneezes all over you on the Piccadilly Line.

Except your fellow passengers don’t know that.

To stop train, pull handle – penalty for improper use £50.

A worthwhile investment to avoid Ebola.

What’s up, Doc?

All of which says, get your Halloween shot right now. It’s the start of the season for goodness sake. Why go miserable when you could have a ball? And not just for Halloween, but for all 56 days until Christmas and beyond.

Do it it now.

Oh yes, and for Halloween night itself, take two paracetamol  and an alka-seltzer before you go to bed.

You might just make it on the Piccadilly Line.

Ebola rescue within reach

Rope Ladder
Avoid viruses and bacteria – take hygiene habits up a level

Wash your hands before proceeding further. Wash you hands before anything.

Because if Ebola really has you worried, that’s one sure way to avoid getting it.

Reality check

You’re not in Africa and you’re not sick. Sure, the nearest Ebola case is three thousand miles away. And sure, you have no connection with anyone from Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea.

But you’re worried all the same and want to be safe. Even though you’re ten times more likely to come down with flu, which kills hundreds of thousands more than Ebola every year – and even now you’re starting a sniffle.

Basic hygiene

OK, so wash your hands. Because if you’re that worried, you’ll already know that Ebola can survive on surfaces like glass for almost two months. And if you’re going to get it, it will be on contact. Touch the glass and you could be in trouble.

A bummer that, because you don’t normally think of it. Clean the tables and chairs, do the floor, use a good powerful bleach so it kills everything.

But forget the window that poor girl visiting from Monrovia leaned up against, wishing she was back home.

Well, she got her wish – to become one of the 520 cases reported in Liberia. let’s hope she makes it.

Clean is not enough

But you have a problem too, don’t you? Because when you go all out to disinfect a room, how many times do you remember the windows?

Or the walls come to that, or the tops of cupboards, the underside of tables, the armrest of chairs, the door handles, the… you can see where this is going.

Yes, cleaning all those surfaces is a good thing. But if you want to be safe, it’s not enough. Not against Ebola, not against anything. 50 days, Ebola can survive on that glass – and that’s according to the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).

Safe by auto-robot

But you can take it out in twenty minutes. Sterilise the whole room clear of ALL virus and bacteria on all surfaces and in the entire air space too – total neutralisation.

Used increasingly in hospitals and clinics, hydrogen peroxide auto-robot sterilisers are protecting us more and more in every day life too.

A super-fine dry mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide is released into the room, spreading upwards and outwards to permeate across surfaces and into every crack and crevice from the ceiling down.

Germs eliminated

Any viruses or bacteria are grabbed by electrostatic charge and oxidised to oblivion – ripped apart by extra oxygen atoms they have no defence against.

Only water is left, in such small amounts it evaporates immediately. The room is safe – and so are you. No germs, no smells, no hazards.

Which of course includes the window glass – and anything else that might have been touched by anyone.

Didn’t know it was that easy to be that safe?

Count on it – sterilise the rooms around you, and Ebola can’t come near.

Ebola goes pop

Halloween Man
Weird, controversial –
as long as it kills Ebola,
who cares?

Halloween is weird, right?

Ebola party in Mayfair

Even so, top of the weird list has got to be Mayfair music club, The Scotch of St James, which this weekend will be hosting an Ebola-themed Halloween party.

As a high-profile celeb-infested landmark, The Scotch has predictably drawn plenty of negative comment – a “reprehensible” move, that “trivialises” matters “beyond the pale”.

But the Scotch is used to controversy – its list of “alumni” reads like a rock and roll who’s who – controversial every one of them, including Paul McCartney, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix.

Predictably though, the do-gooders have it back to front. As promoters for the event point out, it is actually a fancy-dress party based on “Saturday Night Fever” with Ebola as the focus for attracting donations to the volunteer network Médecins Sans Frontières‎.

Deadly memories

It is not the first time a deadly disease has caused celebrations, or triggered lasting traditions.

Across Europe the image of a doctor wearing a prominent beaked mask is still familiar, a memory of the bubonic plague epidemics of he Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

Almost an omen of the full-face masks worn against Ebola today, the beaked masks were filled with  ambergris, lemon balm, mint leaves, camphor, cloves, laudanum, myrrh and rose petals to counter the putrid air that was thought to be the cause of infection.

Killer plague

In the Republic of Venice, Italy, where the plague killed 146,000 people in 1576, a commemorative pontoon bridge is built every year across the 330-metre wide Giudecca Canal from the city’s administrative centre in San Marco to the basilica of the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore in Dorsduro.

A religious ceremony and lavish fireworks display enables relieved citizens and the city’s leaders to give thanksgiving in the two-day Feast of Rendentore in July.

The plague hit Venice repeatedly.  In 1630 almost a third of the city’s population was lost, salvation from which is commemorated  in the magnificent church of Santa Maria della Salute, an iconic domed landmark that stands close to the entrance to the Grand Canal.

Will the current Ebola crisis bring similar gestures of relief from such incredible human suffering?

Weirdly – it being Halloween after all – we already have one.

Ebola website

Pierre Omidyar, the entrepreneur who founded the online auction site eBay, had a fascination with the virus. In fact back in 1995, when eBay was launched simultaneous with the second major outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the website was mostly a collection of information about Ebola.

So, still uptight about holding a Halloween Ebola party?

Hey, whatever works.

As long as the world comes out of it safely, anything to help those poor people suffering from Ebola’s indescribable misery is worth it.

Is Ebola next door, under cover?

Crouching Man
What will you do if the unthinkable happens?

In front of the TV with a good cup of tea, it’s kind of hard to believe.

People in Africa are so desperate to improve their lives, they’re actually dying to get here.

Whatever it takes

A lot of them are genuine immigrants. Thanks to lapses by the under-staffed UK Border Agency, a lot of them are not. Half a million have already fallen off the list – and that doesn’t include the other half million or so living here illegally.

We seen it on the TV though – desperate young men, swarming aboard UK-bound lorries caught in tailbacks outside Calais. Crowds of them over-running the ferry terminals, badly-injured hopefuls hauled out from under Eurostar trains.

When you’re desperate, anything goes – including living as a fugitive once you get here.

Super risky

With luck and the right connections, a young man from Freetown in Sierra Leone might make it across Saharan Africa, over to Italy in a leaky boat, and north to Calais in as little as ten days.

A few hairy moments, scrambling aboard a lorry bound cross-Channel – and the dream world starts, living with friends and relatives in UK.

Dream or nightmare.

Without papers, signing on for any form of benefits is difficult. So is getting a job that pays. But with perseverance, a lowly washing-up job at an under-the-counter rate half the minimum wage is possible.

Which is when the problems start.

Is that the flu, or just getting used to freezing cold Britain?

More than a sickie

The fever, the chest pains, the loss of appetite and red eyes. Maybe it’s malaria. There’s lots of mosquitoes in Sierra Leone. Hard to stand for hours washing up when you’re sick – but you need the money.

Uh huh. Ebola has an incubation period of twenty-one days. A ticking time-bomb.

And look at the panic in New York.

Out of time

A young doctor, Craig Spencer, returns from Ebola relief work with Médecins Sans Frontières‎ in Guinea. He goes for a 3-mile jog, visits the local park, takes a ride on the subway, hails a taxi to a Brooklyn bowling alley. After six days the sickness starts – fever and diarrhoea. Ebola positive. Immediate isolation in Bellevue Hospital.

Not so easy when you’re illegal. So your friends cover up.

That nice African family next-door? Scared people with a guilty secret.

Out of luck

Because in the second week, it gets serious. Sore throat, headache, fatigue – you have to stay in bed.

But you’re not supposed to be here. You’re too ill to go to a NHS Walk-in and a doctor won’t come to you. Your friends care for you as best they can.

Reality hits. It’s not flu. It’s not malaria – you’re much too ill for that. And Ebola is haemorrhagic, you’re bleeding all over the place.

Your friends do their best. But they’re not doctors – and they dare not tell anybody. Your bloody towels and sheets go into a plastic bag in the wheelie bin outside. It’s a week before the council do a pickup.

Out of action

It’s a one-way ticket and you’re not coming back. But still nobody knows.

When the inevitable happens, your friends do they only thing they can. They’re illegal too and cannot risk exposure.

One of them has a car. At three in the morning, a bigger plastic bag is loaded up and dropped in the River Lee. It’s two days before police find the body, washed ashore in the Lockwood Reservoir.

Alarm bells

London’s first local Ebola case. A contaminated water supply. Where has the victim been? What contacts did he have? How many others might be infected? Where does anyone start?

Are we safe enough? Yes, probably.

Ebola spreads by direct contact and our medical teams are on the ball. And say what you like about the NHS, when the chips are down they’re as professional as anywhere in the world.

We shall overcome

We might not look like it any more – with so many of us also from other parts of the world – but we’re the Brits who stood up the the Blitz.

Next door, wherever – we can beat this thing and we will.

Is Ebola already here?

Fruit Bat
Now appearing at a street market near you – instant health hazard

Brace yourself.

Reports from West Africa all acknowledge that the likeliest source of the Ebola virus is by cross-over from animals, particularly fruit bats.

The disease does not seem to affect them, but they are undoubtedly carriers.

They are also prey to huntsmen across West Africa, a daily source of protein – regularly eaten in some areas, prized as a delicacy in others.


Known throughout the region as “bushmeat” – such traditional food includes illegally-hunted monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees and forest antelope – even snakes and porcupines – game meats that are known hosts to Ebola, anthrax, yellow fever and several other deadly diseases.

Nostalgic for home, bushmeat is equally popular with the half million or so West African immigrants living in UK, mostly in London. Traditional soups like egusi, efo and ofe isla rely on it, so does the spicy stew kedjenou.

Unlawful and unhealthy

But bushmeat is illegal – completely unregulated by any health or food safety laws – all 7,500 tons of it smuggled in annually from Abuja, Lagos, Monrovia and Freetown – feeder airports from where the Ebola epidemic currently rages.

Outside the law, the processing of bushmeat is murky at best. It is usually cooked or smoked before market, but techniques are primitive and often hasty. Raw or semi-raw meat  is common, even here in UK.

In the open air market at Ridley Road in Dalston, East London, meats dripping blood are a regular sight. They have arrived in foul-smelling packages, bloody animal corpses sneaked through Heathrow by regular couriers.

Ticking timebomb

Any one of them could carry Ebola, untraced and untraceable – until the three-week incubation period is up and suddenly symptoms of malaria or yellow fever appear. Another few days and it’s something worse.

The trade is unstoppable too – highly profitable, driven by big business and mostly underground. In Hackney or Brixton for instance, a single ape steak might cost as much as £20.

Out in Sierra Leone, British Army soldiers are hauling dead bodies, protected by full hazmat suits and chemical disinfectants. At Ridley Road, dead animals from the same area are butchered with bare hands.

It’s no longer if Ebola breaks out in Britain, it’s when.