Sorry folks, that famous and long-awaited sleigh ride won’t be happening this year.
Seems that red nose of Rudolph’s is causing major ructions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Alarm bells are going off that it’s a warning symptom of H5N1 or other avian flu – one of the nasty ones.
With only days to this year’s round-the-world distribution trip, the whole delivery team – Rudolph, Santa and all the helpers – are under lockdown. Strict quarantine against any new pandemic breaking loose.
Despite high expectations and the world-famous nature of the trip, looks like the CDC has had Santa and Rudolph under surveillance for a long time.
High on the list of worries is the huge sack of fomites – objects or substances which are capable of carrying infectious organisms from one individual to another.
Though each is individually gift-wrapped and addressed, there are no facilities aboard the sleigh to ensure they are properly disinfected and pathogen-free.
The lack of washing facilities aboard is also identified as a major health risk.
Asked for comment, Santa was overcome by a coughing fit, but did manage to identify that a back-up system was in place.
Prior to departure, presents will be sterilised by longer than usual exposure to the Aurora Borealis at the North Pole. The ultra violet light present in the phenomenon will ensure all viruses and bacteria are removed before take-off.
Actual delivery will be by a fleet of high altitude NASA Global Hawk drones. For Santa watchers, high intensity white strobe lights will substitute for Rudolph’s more familiar red glow.
You better watch out – flu and norovirus are coming to town. And bringing a whole load of their friends with them.
Both are highly contagious.
Both transfer easily on contact – mistletoe, kiss-kiss, shake hands, hug-hug, back-slap.
Which means your festive season could be over before it starts – friends and family with you.
The cruise ship curse
Norovirus particularly, gets in on the act preparing food – norovirus, gastroenteritis, food poisoning, stomach flu, call it what you will. And there’s nothing festive about it – vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, headache and fatigue, a real party pooper.
Nine hospitals have already closed wards because of it – not enough beds for people with complications. Young children and old people who dehydrate, which can very quickly become life threatening.
Flu is not nice either – the end of jollity and just as catching.
Don’t take chances when the sneezing starts. You’ll never know what kind you have until it hits you – and it could be a killer. The global outbreak of 1918 killed 50 million people, more than twice the casualties in the whole of World War One.
Yeah, yeah, it’s Mad Friday and everybody’s having fun.
Ho, ho, ho – food and drink and lots of it.
So a few precautions are not just a good idea – they’re absolutely essential.
Hike up your hygiene
Like washing you hands for a start. As often as you can think about it.
Germs love getting in through our body’s access ports – mouth, nose, eyes, ears. And we touch our faces up to 3,000 times a day – 3 to 5 times every waking minute.
Better still, clobber all germs before they start.
It takes just twenty minutes to mist up a room with hydrogen peroxide. An actively charged super-oxidiser, it grabs viruses and bacteria out of the air and rips them apart by shoving oxygen at them. All germs gone, the place is completely sterile.
Kind of crucial when you remember that neither flu nor norovirus respond to antibiotics. You can’t stop them once they’ve got you, so you’ve got to strike first.
And germs are ALWAYS around. There’s never a time when you can forget about them.
Sick as in not well, feeling ill, under the weather.
Because if you’re well, or only slightly poorly, you’ve no business wasting NHS time.
This is winter, see? When the NHS is really over-stretched.
Cold weather, lots of breathing problems, the seasonal bash of norovirus – and boozed-up party-goers with injuries from fights, accidents or liver-crashes.
All on top of the usual load of people needing operations, treatment for disease, controlled recuperation, or long-term care.
If none of these are you , then stay the hell out. Trivial problems just kick the whole system into overload.
Unless of course, you’re one of those workaholics in denial. Taking a big chance, but trying not to think about it.
You know you’re sick, but you’re swamped at work. Or maybe you fear for your job if you take time off.
Wellness doesn’t help
Yeah, yeah, so your company has a wellness programme. You go to the gym, follow their salady diets, fake the medicals or duck them.
But you’re at your desk six days a week at 7 am, work through regularly until 10 pm, always burning the candle at both ends.
Always with a sniffle too, because your resistance is low. Tired out of your mind, with no resilience. Tummy complaining, but you drag yourself around. How long before you give yourself a heat attack?
You need a doctor and you know it. And you’re probably dragging your colleagues down with you – a misplaced work ethic that costs UK businesses £29 BILLION a year.
You see, just by being ill you put others at hazard.
Your company might have wellness procedures and care about health.
Colleagues at risk
But betcha a million quid they’ve got nothing to get rid of harmful germs spreading around in the workplace. A quick vacuum and a wipedown and that’s your lot. All those viruses and bacteria just waiting to bring somebody down.
And the rate you’re going, you could trigger an epidemic.
Which means you need the NHS as a matter of urgency. And your employer needs to hike up hygiene levels before half the staff join you.
Like HEPA filters in the air conditioning to take out the germs. Or a nightly mist-up with hydrogen peroxide to make the whole place sterile. Or both, for 24 hour protection. More effective than exercises in leotards, tracking your weight, and making you eat grapes.
So that if you insist on going to work, at least those around you stand a fighting chance.
Bet on yourself
Go on, get yourself to the doctor. You’re genuine, not pulling a sickie. And the whole NHS exists exactly for people like you. You’ve proved your worth, now invest in yourself.
And if your boss still can’t come to terms with that, you’re working in the wrong place anyway.
Do it NOW, before something happens and you can’t.
Terrified of the dentist? You shouldn’t be. These days it doesn’t hurt – and when your mouth feels healthy, so do you.
Unless you’re worried about infection of course. That Nottingham dentist did nothing for anyone’s confidence.
Strictly come clean
But your own dentist has strict hygiene rules to follow – and you can bet he does. With around 20 billion oral microbes living in your mouth – more than the number of people living on earth – no way he’s taking chances.
If you think about it, a dentist’s surgery is like a hospital operating room, so some basic rules apply:
All surfaces are disinfected between patients.
Hands are washed and new gloves pulled on between patients.
All instruments are heat-sterilised between patients.
UV in the OR
Plus, after the Nottingham case, you might notice your dentist has a new toy. A schnazzy new ultra violet light generator.
Because in a hospital you personally get prepped before any operation – cleaned, disinfected, sterilised – made safe.
But dental patients walk in straight off the street. And every single one of us wears an aura of at least 3 million viruses and bacteria all the time – every one of them looking for a way into our bodies to start their mischief.
OK, so you’re at the dentist.
Then what happens? Your dental operation starts bang, straight away.
But you’re still in your street clothes, with slush on your shoes, no opportunity to wash your hands – you touch the dentist’s chair, the armrest and maybe something else – what sort of things are you bringing in for the next patient to run the risk of?
Because you’ll notice that when the patient before you comes out, so do the dentist and the nurse –they don’t want to be exposed and things are about to happen in there.
Death ray for germs
They close the door. The dentist presses a remote control – not for catch-up TV, but for the ultra violet generator.
Inside the surgery the machine goes into action, blitzing every germ dead – in the air, on surfaces – destroying their DNA by irradiation. Pumping out high intensity ultra violet light in the shortwave C spectrum, pulsed in concentrated flashes to minimise human exposure.
5 minutes and it’s safe. The room is sterile. No germs for you to catch except those you brought with you. And you’ve survived the day so far, ain’t nothing going to happen now.
You go into the surgery with the dentist and nurse. No germs, no nothing, the whole room is 99.999% free of them – what they call Sterility Assurance Level 5 (ever so posh).
Still worried about the dentist?
If you’ve ever had raging toothache at 4.00 in the morning, you’ll know he’s on your side.
Temperatures are plunging, but the NHS is in meltdown.
There’s massive and unprecedented demands on the service all over – ambulance services, A&Es, treatment centres stretched to the limit as if it’s New Year’s Eve.
It might be an ordinary week in the run up to Christmas, but more people are feeling the sudden cold and succumbing, more victims are being felled in norovirus attacks, and more people are drinking themselves silly – more arguments, more fights, more injuries, more accidents.
The rest of the country was equally scary – West Midlands 3,550, North West 3,973, East of England 3,278.
Scarier still is that around 1 in every 10 call outs is alcohol related – a legacy of low prices that encourage drinking at home before a night out – straight into a drinking culture fuelled by festive season bonhomie and extended opening hours.
Many other calls are unnecessary, paramedics responding to patients who should have gone to their GP.
But many people can’t get to their GP. With many surgeries only open during business hours, waiting times for an ordinary appointment can be a week or more. Not good when you’re hurting and need attention NOW.
Going to A&E has the same problem. First priority is of course to more serious cases – but even for acute pain you can expect to be triaged to a standard 4-hour wait.
So it’s the ambulance crews who take the brunt – long 12-hour shifts with no let up from pressure.
The stress is amazing. Response time for a life-threatening emergency is supposed to be eight minutes. Not easy when traffic congestion alone could make journeys ten times longer.
A bottle-neck in many A&Es ramps up the pressure. They’re busy in there.
Backed up when they should be on the road, ambulances might queue four and five deep to reach a hospital bay – and during that time the patient is the crew’s responsibility – along with pressure to cope with still more incidents happening out there, round the clock…
Across the board the NHS is receiving £700 million to cope with this year’s pressure. It’s not enough and all of it should go to the ambulance service urgently.
Because in case you hadn’t noticed, life isn’t as easy as it once was. GPs no longer make house calls. And when you finally do get through to an appointment, five minutes consultation time is your lot – next please, there’s people waiting.
But call 999 and the ambulance service comes running. Which means that paramedics are way more than the frontline emergency teams they’re trained to be. And as the sharp edge of the NHS, their work takes the heat off right through the whole system , not least through overworked A&Es.
In safe hands
You see, to Tom, Dick or Harrys like us, getting sick or having an accident is a major drama. We’re scared, we don’t know what’s happening to us, we anticipate the worst.
Which is where the training of our paramedics is so amazing. And why they get called so often.
Theirs is the calm, confident voice of the professional. Reassuring. Soothing. You’re obviously in the hands of experts. You can relax.
You’re in your own home too. Not the daunting environment of a hospital. Familiar things surround you while practiced hands provide care. You’re going to be OK. No panic attacks. No nervous reactions. No complications.
If you’ve ever been cared for by an ambulance crew you’ll know the quiet sureness, the easy confidence – already three-quarters of the way to feeling better.
Meet your new GP
Which makes them our new GPs – and then some. And every year 1 in 20 of us will call urgently for their services.
Not for “take two aspirins and call me in the morning” either – but for serious needs like segment elevation myocardial infarction – a type of heart attack.
Anything in fact, from minor injuries to cardiac arrest, to multiple casualties from serious road accidents. How many GPs can handle that?
Our paramedics are still in the hot seat though. The NHS is a big place and £700 million doesn’t go very far in a country that needs expert care 24/7.
More ambulances, more crews, more systems to handle them, they’re urgent now.
Because come rain or shine, our paramedics are always there when we need them – no matter how tired, hungry or rushed of their feet they are.
And they deserve better than 10p in the pound for saving our lives.
Except there’s nothing routine in cutting your body open and sewing up a few repairs.
Invasive surgery they call it. Like being carved up on the battlefield, but under anaesthetic.
Always a risk
Yes, it saves lives – in this case, yours.
But all the time your body is at hazard, and it’s only the skills of the experts that keep you alive.
Not just experts with a scalpel either.
The mop and bucket brigade are also keeping you from death.
Because of the germs.
Billions and billions of viruses and bacteria floating around all of us every day – in the air around our bodies, in our homes – and in the hospital where they’re going to do the op.
It IS a battlefield too – right across the consulting room, the operating theatre, the recovery room and the observation ward. A constant war to prevent infection getting into your cut. The cut that saved your life, but could still kill you if the germs get in.
HAIs they call them – Hospital Acquired Infections. And you might wonder how such disasters are possible if medical professionals are doing their job properly.
The truth is that they are – to higher standards than any other occupation. If the world ran to the demanding requirements of the medical profession, we’d all be living in perfection.
Thing is though, that HAIs are not just a medical issue. They’re a hygiene one.
There are more people in hospital with cuts and tubes and wires into their bodies than anywhere else. And every breach in the body defences is a chance for germs to slip in.
Stopping them is next to impossible. Like the air we all breathe, they’re a fact of life.
Which is why post-op, you drift out of the anaesthetic pumped full of antibiotics.
No significant surgery of any kind is possible without them. The germs are so pervasive and fast, every patient would die on the operating table.
Which makes every hospital a war-zone. A constant onslaught against viruses and bacteria – hostile organisms so small they’re invisible – you can never tell whether they’re there or not.
But count on it, they always are.
So hospitals don’t just need to be clean and KEPT clean. They need a special kind of clean. Because the enemy is everywhere – on surfaces, furniture, drapes, skin and clothing. Swirling through the air too. If you’ve ever watched minute motes of dust floating in sunlight, you’ll understand.
A hospital is a huge place too – requiring a monumental effort to keep clean.
Doing it all to the same standard is impossible, but this is where miracles happen every day.
They need them too.
Antibiotics are vital to saving your life – but fifty years of depending on them more and more has led to overuse. Result – mutating bacteria have found a way to become resistant to them too.
So HAIs are increasingly in the news. Today the No 1 villain is MRSA – Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus – the surgeon’s nightmare. The No 2 is Clostridium Difficile.
You will be tested for both repeatedly – before, during and after your procedure. Between them they kill around 2,000 people a year in the UK, just these two.
Against the enemy
Fortunately you’re not totally dependant on Mrs Mop to keep you safe. Hospital cleaning is science and there’s more to it than disinfectant and detergent.
Operating theatres have HEPA filters – High-Efficiency Particulate Air scrubbers so fine they can remove 99.97% of particles down to 0.03 of a micron – a single MRSA cell is 0.06.
Increasingly, ultra violet light is used too. In high intensity pulses generated in the short-wave UV-C band, the light attacks viruses and bacteria by destroying their DNA. All germs within range are dead in around ten minutes.
Hydrogen peroxide is even more effective. No shadows, no “dead” areas. Misted up into a super-fine ionised spray it reaches everywhere, drawn by static charge. Germs are destroyed by oxidising them – ripped apart by oxygen atoms and destroyed down to just 1 microorganism in a million.
Yes, your surgery is a serious thing, but your body will pull through – the doctors and nurses will make sure of it. Your narrow escape is in avoiding the germs – always a risk, even with defences in place.
Yes, we choose our own directions – and yes, we drive ourselves at our own pace. It’s by our own efforts, or not at all.
But pretty well none of it is possible without hands. They are the do-ers that make things happen – that turn ideas into reality.
Amazing things, really. They do everything, go everywhere.
And that’s the problem.
Because the things they touch are seldom pure. Like everything else in this world, they’re covered in bacteria – some good, some bad. Many transferred on contact to our fingertips or palms.
Germs, right? Invisible microorganisms that can make you very ill or kill you. Impossible to avoid and a continual mission to get rid of. Which effectively means you’re at hazard all of the time.
Well, sort of.
World’s smallest killers
To a virus or bacteria that’s barely a thousandth of a micron across, your hand is an armour-plated tank. Tough and chemically hostile, it offers no way in to the body – an impenetrable no-go barrier to infecting a meal-ticket host.
Ain’t nothing to do with a surface like that except hang on. Which plenty of germs do – upwards of three million of them, around us like an aura every day.
Because it’s what our hands do next that matters.
Touching other stuff.
Keyboard, phone, door-handle, document, money, clothing, loo seat, poo, wee, Coke bottle, chips, tomato sauce – these are all what are called “fomites”, made famous by Kate Winslet’s character Dr. Erin Mears in the movie Contagion.
Fomites are substances or objects that can transfer germs – your handbag, keys, scarf, watch-strap – triggering a whole roller-coaster ride of infection – where germs get to meet other germs, and gang up together for fun, fun, fun.
Spot the missing touch?
You got it. Your face. Otherwise known as germ heaven. The guaranteed way in for infection – through your mouth, up your nose, in the sensitive bits round your eyes, even your ears.
And without thinking of it, we touch our faces two or three times a minute – that’s up to three thousand times a day! Three thousand germ-entry opportunities every day of your life.
The missing obsession
Which kind of emphasises the other missing touch – soap and water.
Most of the time we’re so full of ourselves rushing around, we don’t really think of washing hands. Yet if you think of the fomites we encounter doing that, we’re at hazard all the time.
Yes, it is possible to get some protection. Wash everything – tables, plates, knives, forks. Disinfect everything – loos, wash basins, kitchen sinks. All the schlep of daily life.
It’s even possible to sterilise all around us. A dose of UV radiation or misting up the place with hydrogen peroxide will clobber all viruses and bacteria down to nothing – even killers like bubonic plague and Ebola.
But it’s all kind of useless if we traipse into our specially sterilised room and shake hands for an interview straight after a nervous but necessary dash to the WC.
At your peril
Washed your hands?
Er, yes, but that quick rinse under the tap doesn’t crack it. And using the pull-down towel doesn’t help. When the roll is finished, everybody’s germs all wind up on the same piece of cotton.
Ask any medic, and they’ll tell you that a proper scrub-up to get rid of germs takes at least five minutes. And that’s a schlep too – seriously hot water, scouring underneath and scrubbing your nails, getting right down between your fingers – then disposable towels or an air dryer.
And it all needs to be done again as soon as you touch something!
So the Hand Hygiene brigade are not so paranoid after all. This is the flu season, with all kinds of other nasties lurking out there as well – norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter. You can blame other circumstances just so far, but you’ve got to come to the party as well.
Just like everything in life, isn’t it? Keep your hands clean, or it will come back to bite you.
Because it’s pretty silly to die for something that isn’t necessary.
Last week’s post about dirty make-up brushes, started the wheels going round.
It’s not just make-up brushes – how about all the other stuff?
Routine, yes – but seriously scary.
Especially getting up in the morning.
So most of us start with the toothbrush, right? Rinse it under the tap, squeeze out some toothpaste, straight into brushing.
Germs are lurking
Er… Except where was the toothbrush when you started? Ready in a mug next to the mirror? Rinsed off and standing there since last night? “Rode hard and put away wet”?
Germs and moisture, remember? And this is the season – flu, colds, norovirus – take your pick. Your toothbrush has been up all night surrounded by all of them.
Where’s the boiling water! Where’s the Milton!
Better still, where’s the toothbrush steriliser?
Ultra violet safeguard
Because if you want to be safe, you’ve got to ninja out those germs before they get started. And locking your toothbrush in a UV box for ten minutes is about the best way to do it. The ultra violet destroys the germs DNA, viruses and bacteria don’t stand a chance.
Want proof the germs are there?
Take a good hard look round the edge of your wash basin. With all the water splashes, chances are good you’ll see little flecks of black along the grouting. Mould, fungus, breeding ground for all kinds of germs. Sprinkle some Glo Germ, which shows up germs under UV light, and you’ll be horrified.
Sure, you bleach them out with a regular wipe down. But what about your face-cloth, sponge, razor and nail brush? Used all the time, always wet. Even your towel. More of a hazard than you might have imagined.
Not the kind of games they play in hospital – where a routine scrub-up is a rigorous procedure.
Eight careful steps and five minutes of meticulous washing. Properly aseptic, not touching anything. Everything sealed before use and disposable. Sterilised scrubbing brush, sponge and nail pick – disposable one-time towels too.
If that’s too much PT in the morning, you can get all kinds of UV sterilisers to help. The drawer type is used by salons for manicure instruments and – you guessed it – make-up brushes.
For towels and bigger items, they look more like a kind of microwave oven – warming up the towels and blitzing them with UV, all in one hit.
Most flexible of all is the wand – though waving it around they way most people might probably achieves little. Proper irradiation requires closer to ten minutes.
UV certainly does the business. It’s press-button easy, click on/off – used wherever sterilising needs to be set up quickly. Of course medics still have to gown and scrub up with full kit for infectious diseases, but UV light tunnels are the failsafe to ensure no germs get in or out of operating areas.
Mobile UV robots might be overkill for your bathroom, they’re starting to be indispensable in doctor’s surgeries and dental clinics. So quick and simple, busy practices can handle high volumes of patients a day, secure that facilities are properly sterile before the start of each appointment.
Still want to use that toothbrush? You can get disposables, you know – even with paste.
In boxes of 100 too. Which makes it around 12p to save your life.