Monthly Archives: April 2015

British winner to take down malaria killer

Gin & Tonic
Cheers! A good G&T won’t
cure malaria, but it will
make you feel better

If you blinked you missed it.

The amazing news hidden deep among all the wars, disasters, Ebola scares and nonsense of electing the World’s First Joke Prime Minister.

End of a world killer?

British drug giant Glaxo Smith Kline has applied for a licence for a new vaccine to defeat malaria, the first-ever defence against this world-killer that looks like being successful.

Four infection types exist to give us grief in our lives – bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Malaria is by far the worst parasite to invade our bodies and has always ranked high on our list of killer dread diseases.

For the children’s sake

Now for the first time, we might be able to beat it – and significantly the new vaccine is designed specifically to work with children – African children, who are currently dying at one a minute from this terrible affliction – many more times worse than Ebola will ever be.

Actual figures are staggering – 198 MILLION cases in 2013, with 584,000 deaths. And this is one of those where disinfecting and watchful hygiene doesn’t help much – though malaria can be transmitted through contaminated blood.

The most effective defence is mosquito nets – and a darned good insecticide to clobber the anopheles mosquito (only the female of the species) that transmits it.

In the 1940s, the wonder-chemical DDT used to be it (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) – a highly effective insecticide now banned across most of the world for the dangers it brings to the food chain and links to chronic illnesses.

Despite its high efficiency, DDT was found to be so poisonous in its side effects that over-use triggered the American watchdog Environmental Protection Agency in 1962. It killed mosquitoes, but it killed too many humans too.

The world is winning

Killer though it is, malaria is treatable if diagnosed and treated early. But with medical services stretched thin throughout the world’s tropical regions – as the current Ebola crisis demonstrates – treatment is not always possible.

The new vaccine, called RTS,S, is not infallible – but manages to reduce cases among toddlers by 36%. In parallel with this vaccine is an American alternative PfSPZ, intended for adults and still at the trial stage.

It may be too early to toast the success of either – though a celebratory glass may be appropriate if you’ve ever caught malaria and been lucky enough to be treated for it.

Think of England

In the days of Empire, gin and tonic was invented as a refreshing drink that masked the bitter taste of the anti-malarial quinine ingredient added to it.

On behalf of all the African children who now stand a fighting chance – cheers!

Camp chicken, ooh – the runs that could kill you

Girl with tummy cramps
You wash your hands,
you wash the chicken for
dinner, why is this happening?

You don’t want to play with this one.

It’s our No 1 cause of food poisoning and you get it from bacteria in raw chicken.

“Campylobacter” is not easy to say.

It’s not easy to stomach either. A week of cramps and diarrhoea are the norm – you can even die from it.

And it’s so potent, ONE DROP of water or juice from a raw chicken is enough to infect someone.

Hurry up and wait

Thing is, nobody’s doing anything about it – basically just running round like chickens with their heads chopped off.

Banging the drum are the Food Standards Agency, who quite rightly alert us to how dangerous campylobacter is and the dangers of handling raw chicken. Their tips and hints for playing safe are first-class and should keep anyone out of trouble.

At the same time they are blaming the supermarkets, moaning that the big chains are doing little or nothing to stop campylobacter occurring in the product they sell.

Uh huh. A hello birdie moment for the FSA, because realistically there’s not a lot supermarkets can do to pressure their suppliers.

Because there’s not much the growers can do either.

Natural in birds

The facts of life are that the campylobacter bacterium is NOT pathogenic in birds. It lives in them quite naturally and they are not affected. It’s a normal condition, like human beings have dandruff.

Which means around 70% of all commercially reared chickens are probably positive for it – enough to bankrupt the industry if forced to destroy them.

Besides, imagine the problems of isolating a flock of unaffected birds.

Tighten up biosecurity, yes. But one drop of moisture – one waft of wind-borne campylobacter molecules – would be enough to contaminate the whole lot. A near impossible task to an industry that has to supply up to 2.2 million birds a week.

Stop campylobacter in chickens?

Get real.

If such a major chunk of birds are affected, the FSA should either ban them outright or wish for the moon.

The real issue

Because for safety’s sake, it has to be assumed that ALL birds have it.

A total switcheroo on the problem.

Because then, it’s not the breeding of birds that’s the issue.

It’s the hygiene standards of how they’re prepared for market. Exactly where the FSA has the high ground and the muscle.

So why aren’t THEY doing something about it?

Step one would be to enforce that chicken may only be distributed in leak-proof packaging. Any fluid or moisture in the product would be contained and unable to contaminate fridges or storage areas in the supply chain.

Step two is for the FSA warnings to get some teeth. Boldly displayed on all chicken packaging, together with advice about handling raw product, avoiding exposure, and the hazards of cross-contamination.

If we’re that worried about it, the technology probably even exists for a low-cost audio-tag to sound a buzzer or recorded voice warning as soon as the packaging is opened. On a volume of 2.2 million chickens a week, it is certainly possible to develop one.

A solvable problem

And there you have it, campylobacter contained.

Properly warned, the public will know how to handle chicken properly and the problem goes away.

Nobody gets hammered, everybody’s happy, and tummy cramps from barbecuing drumsticks just don’t happen.

Come on FSA, how about it?

Good germs, bad germs – we need both to survive

Before-after girl's face
Don’t worry, everything’s OK –
just as long as we keep the balance

This whole page exists because we have a problem with bacteria.

More correctly, we have a problem with hygiene.

If it wasn’t for bacteria we wouldn’t exist – and most bacteria are benign anyway.

Yes, bacteria are dangerous. Yes, they can kill.

Most of the time we co-exist in balance – and maintaining that equilibrium is what keeps us healthy.

Bacteria prejudice

Because we’re psyched to believe all bacteria are bad, it’s creepy to be reminded that they’re crawling all over us – inside and out. We wouldn’t last long however, if they weren’t there.

Our whole digestive system depends on them to extract nutrition from food. One of our key needs is nitrogen, which our bodies are totally unequipped to process. Which is why a bunch of bacteria sits in our gut, munching through nitrogen sources to power us up.

So how about the bad buys?

Time to stand our preconceived thinking on its head.

Our whole existence works on the synergy our bodies have with bacteria – a tit-for-tat relationship that most of the time works just fine. But there are billions and billions of bacteria types – and not all of them work best with humans. The soil might be better, or some kind of tree.

Right and wrong

And that’s when things go pear-shaped. They can’t co-exist because they’re in the wrong place. Wrong reactions happen, things get out of kilter and the body suffers – the bacteria start eating or changing the wrong things and some kind of infection usually results.

In the wrong place? Get rid of it – which is what antibiotics are for.

And since we don’t have any mechanism for encouraging these bacteria to leave peacefully, the only thing we know how to do is kill them. Wrong bacteria out of the way, we start getting better – or more appropriately, we return to balance – over the worst, we’re convalescing.

But killing those wrong bacteria can be brutal, with punishing results for our bodies. One well-known side-effect of antibiotics is diarrhoea. Way out of balance, we get the squitters, which the body voids as harmful waste – including the wrong bacteria. Like norovirus, say – or even nastier – gastroenteritis.

Not nice, being ill

Yes, it happens to all of us at some time – and we know it takes time to come back. The body has to repair the damage before the good guys can get to work. The collywobbles settle down and we’re back to normal.

Or take the other bad guys of the moment, MRSA – methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus to be exact. At any one time, staph bacteria is all over our skin – its function, to keep OTHER harmful intruders out. OK José, everything fine.

But get a cut that lets it into the wrong place and boom! – the body has a problem that the Doc has no medicine to fix. Why? Because with overuse of antibiotics for every little thing for the last 50 years, certain bacteria have learned how to resist them. The price of antibiotics-abuse.

Outside our bodies, of course, is another world. Some environments are safe, others have hazards – wrong bacteria, unable to find the right host, so they choose you and throw your balance out.

Again, we don’t have the mechanism to politely tell these bacteria to go away. We only know how to kill them. And experience has shown us that if we don’t get rid of all of them, they still keep coming. So we hit them with whatever – bleach usually – sodium hypochlorite, formaldehyde, whatever might work.

Brutal tactics

Trouble is, we have to spread it everywhere in our surroundings to clobber them all – good, bad together, we’ve no way of telling the difference. Just so long as we don’t affect anything INSIDE our bodies.

Brutal yes, but this is war – germ war. And we have to protect the bacteria inside us that help us live.

Kinder to practice better hygiene. To wash our hands every time we do stuff that lets the wrong bacteria get to us. But not just for five seconds. Properly, to make sure they all get away – about as long as it takes to sing “Row, row, row your boat” in your head.

After all, we’re all in this together.

How to catch a plane without catching a bug

Cabin attendant
Welcome aboard our germ-free flight, no norovirus please!

Ready for take-off?

Ready for this year’s bout of norovirus, or whatever it is you’re in for?

Happens every year, right?

Bugs on a plane. Every passenger’s holiday nightmare. Cabin crew too.

And it keeps happening. However much the airlines say they decontaminate their planes.

Everybody’s sick of it

Sure, on short-hauls – from here to the Med and back – there’s not much time for more than a lick and a promise. A quick wipe-down maybe, empty the toilets, grab all the rubbish out of the gangway.

Sometimes not even that. Come and gone in under twenty minutes. So on-board germs get a return trip. Twice as many people to infect. Victims of time-table urgency.

Back at home base though, every aircraft is supposed to get a thorough deep clean. Nose to tail scrub-out “with sodium hypochlorite diluted to a strength of 100mg/l and a 5% solution of formalin, which is itself a 40% solution of formaldehyde gas in water” exactly per the official World Health Organisation cleaning of aircraft guide.

Wipe-down procedures are laid in detail in this impressive manual. Yet still people keep coming down with bugs – cabin crew particularly, exposed to it more often.

What’s wrong?

Are airlines skimping on the job, or are these procedures simply not good enough?

From the looks of it, a bit of both. So if your airline is cutting corners, good luck to you.

But what about how it’s done?

Check out this short clip of cleaning under the seats.

It might look the business, but remember, space is really tight when you’re a passenger, so a lot of stuff winds up under the seats – shoes, bags, snacks, food debris from inflight meals, magazines, nappies, inflight blanket – you name it. Not just on the floor itself, but pushed up on the underside of seats, against the wall, wherever it’s possible to squash something.

Half the job

Uh, huh. But only the floor is cleaned. Thorough enough, but missing out any smears there might be elsewhere. Go through the WHO manual and you’ll see that detailed though it is, there’s lots of other places get missed too – behind things, under things, in the cracks in between things.

Easy places for germs to lurk. Like norovirus. Or Ebola if your aircraft is flying that way.

Which means that even though your plane might be cleaned and disinfected several times over, it can still harbour germs that can get you – as this Air New Zealand case showed up in 2009.

So why aren’t these measures enough? There are measures for avoiding bugs like norovirus, why aren’t they working?

One reason is our mind-set.

If we don’t catch a bug by breathing it in, we think of it as being spread by physical contact – touching each other, or touching surfaces like grab handles, seat backs and armrests (fomites) – actually contracting it through the skin.

ALL germs are airborne

Ahem. Ever noticed what happens when you swirl around in a dusty room? Clouds of stuff everywhere, sometimes so thick you can’t see – floating around, taking an age to settle back down.

Germs are like that – floating around in the air, all the time. And they’re millions of times smaller than a dust speck – invisible, riding the air in their billions – often small enough to go right through your aircraft’s HEPA air conditioning filters without stopping.

Which means clean all the surfaces without cleaning the interior air, and the airlines are only doing half the job. In the still moments at the gate before you step aboard, these germs have time to settle – ready for your hand to make contact on the seat back, as you steady yourself to sit down.

Hello, norovirus.

Unless of course, your airline is using a Hypersteriliser – a machine that kills germs by spraying them with hydrogen peroxide. A lot safer than sodium hypochlorite or formaldehyde – a banned substance anyway in European biocides.

Vaporised hydrogen peroxide is already proven to be superior in ridding germs from aircraft. But by ionising the hydrogen peroxide into a plasma, the Hypersteriliser is even more effective.

Plus performance germ-killing

Two things happen with ionisation.

The hydrogen peroxide molecules become actively charged, like magnets with the same poles together, immediately trying to escape each other. This forces them to disperse in all directions, up through the air and hard up against all surfaces, burrowing deep into cracks to avoid each other.

The charged molecules are actively attracted to the opposite charge of viruses and bacteria, latching onto them in mid-air or wherever they happen to be – oxidising them to oblivion.

The stuff doesn’t clean the plane – that job still has to be done first. But it does get rid of the germs – all of them – to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6.

Your plane is now sterile. 99.9999% of viruses and bacteria – gone. No norovirus, no anything. (Tweet this)

Just the ticket, eh?

You might like to mention this to your airline next time.

It’ll keep you out of trouble – and your cabin crew would be glad to know.

How your child can survive iffy kid hygiene

Dirty hands around boy
Kid hygiene – you really don’t want to know

Time to start winning the battle.

Though you may have to concede the “Go, clean your teeth” issue.

A minor setback. Serious Colgate moments will start happening from the first date.

Out of your hands

It’s what you can’t supervise that’s the worry. Out of sight and running free, the last thing on their minds is washing their hands or watching how they eat.

Like the stomach-wrenching bout of gastro after comidas rapidas from that street vendor in Spain?

No es su culpa – that was eating with dirty hands from not finding the loo after watching Darth Vader in Guerra de las Galaxias.

Kid hygiene. Out of sight and out of control.

Where they’re vulnerable

Especially at school.

350 like-minded young terrors all bigging it up, defying authority, avoiding soap and water – ‘cos it’s sissy.

All together under one roof. 30 to a class – all breathing the same air, touching the same things, sharing the same space.

Tough creatures, yes. Cast-iron immune systems from eating dirt as toddlers. But growing up fast – increasingly vulnerable to viruses and bacteria their systems have never confronted before. Or coming down with bugs they somehow got away with last time.

Iffy, all right. Not safe at all.

Because sure, the school gets cleaned every night. Tough regulations, class-rooms vacuumed out, basins and toilets wiped down with bleach, all rubbish taken away.

But what about the things kids touch?

Invisible risk

Pencils, crayons, paper, text books, computer keyboards, door handles, taps, loo flushes – and the favourite, underneath the desk where the used chewing gum gets stuck?

What about the classroom air-space – still lingering with somebody’s coronation chicken stashed away two days ago, and uncontrolled farts from baked beans in that day’s school lunch?

What about the things you can’t see too? Invisible viruses and bacteria – as many as 30 billion to a cubic foot – floating on the air and riding the draughts.

Waiting for the kids to come back tomorrow. Waiting for the two or three who will touch their faces once too often.

Rhinovirus – so tiny, a single cell can drop THROUGH a terra cotta roof tile. Or norovirus, the holiday favourite – highly contagious by the slightest skin contact.

The classrooms might get cleaned, but the germ threshold stays the same. A lurking threat unchecked by iffy kid hygiene. Luck of the draw who gets infected next.

Hospital-grade protection

Unless the school is using a Hypersteriliser.

In just twenty minutes, ionised hydrogen peroxide gas plasma reduces that germ threshold to zero. (Tweet this) Oxidising viruses and bacteria to shreds. Reducing the iffyness somewhere closer to safe. No germs, period.

Not compensating for unwashed hands after using the loo, of course. Or chewing pencils that have been on the floor. Or any other party tricks of kid hygiene.

Log 6 Sterility Assurance Level

But it is a safety net. A reassurance that your kid’s classroom is sterile to hospital operating room standards when everyone enters in the morning.

After that, it depends on how persuasive you are at encouraging life habits.

Nerve-wracking, yes. But WE got through it.

So will they – with much better odds in their favour.

Not off work again! Could be infected office

Unhappy businesswoman
It’s not you, it’s the office – repeated illnesses coming back over and over

What is it – cough, sniffle? Or heave, upchuck?

You have our sympathy either way. It’s never nice to be out of it.

And this is a repeat performance?

There’s a lot of it going round, as they say.

Not your fault

Sick building syndrome maybe – when your workplace environment develops an unpleasant and growing condition that can affect people in all kinds of way – headaches, nausea, or even more serious.

Lots of things can cause it – poor air circulation, damp, dust, chemical pollution. Many of which can never come right for structural reasons.

Mould on the walls for instance means water seepage somewhere, and not always a busted pipe. The only thing is to rip the place down and start again.

The price of being social

But not always.

A lot of our ailments are a legacy of working in groups, sharing enclosed spaces – an open-plan office, school classroom, lecture theatre or catering area. Enclosed because it’s cold and wet and dark outside – we need the central heating and electricity.

How many of us are there? 20? 30?

All together in one place because it’s easier to work that way – to talk to each other, interact, stimulate and motivate ourselves. Good thinking, Jim.

Except that pushes up the germ threshold. At least half a dozen of us will have some kind of bug at any one time – either about to knock us out, or wobbling back through recuperation. WAIs – Work Acquired Infections.

Some of us will be more sensitive than others too – more easily clobbered by anything going around.

And yes, it does go around. Not because we’re breathing over each other and touching shared objects (fomites) during the day – the phones, keyboards, documents, coffee machine, whatever. If we’re smart we already know that and wash our hands often.

Oh really? If only that were true.

Against office illnesses

OK, so somehow we all make it through the day – and then we go home.

If we’re working late, we might see the cleaners at their job before we do.

See them vacuum the floors, empty the waste baskets, take out the trash, wipe down the desk tops, spray air freshener. Nice and tidy for the morning.

Hold it right there.

Just because everybody’s gone home doesn’t mean the germ threshold’s gone down.

Whatever viruses and bacteria there are – and there ALWAYS are – are still lingering.

Still on the phones, keyboards, documents, coffee machine, whatever. Still hanging in the air which is around 80% of the room space. Still waiting around for everybody to come back tomorrow.

Uh huh, an infected office and we don’t even know it.

Waiting to get you

Maybe tomorrow we’ll all come down with something – maybe we won’t. A risk we get away with most of the time because our body resistance is good and we lead healthy lives.

It’s still an infected office.

Because vacuum, wipe, spray does nothing to get rid of the germs. The standing germs that are always there. Mostly in the air too. Waiting to be breathed in. Or to grab hold on contact as we walk through them.

Why not? They’re so light they could ride the air for weeks. And even an average bacteria can survive without a host body for anything up to a month.

An infected office, waiting.

So what happens when for some reason our body resistance is down? The baby kept us awake last night, or we had to work seriously late, or we ran 10 kilometres with the lunch-time keep fit mob?

But get rid of the germs and the threat goes away.

No infected office, nobody pulling sickies all the time.

Bunking off now is back to “the dog ate my homework” excuses.

It’s the easiest thing in the world too.

Press button easy

The cleaning team come in, trundling a Hypersteriliser with them.

They swamp the place out as normal, close all the windows and doors, hit the button and leave.

Sixty seconds later, the machine starts misting up the place with ultra-fine ionised hydrogen peroxide – so fine and light it takes on bacteria at their own game.

Because they’re ionised, the fine molecules of hydrogen peroxide spread rapidly – all with the same highly charged energy forcing them to separate from each other.

Super-excited and buzzing, they reach everywhere – driven hard to fill up the entire space – jammed against walls, floors, ceiling and furniture, shoved fiercely into cracks and crevices, trying to get away from each other.

That same charged energy actively attracts them to the opposite charge of viruses and bacteria.

In mid-air, on the fly, or wherever they happen to be, the hydrogen peroxide molecules grab at these germs, thrusting oxygen atoms at them to destroy their DNA and rip apart their cell structure.

World War Three, billions of times over – in a microscope.

Forty minutes later, the place is sterilised safe. The Hypersteriliser shuts down. The mist dissipates into oxygen and water, which promptly evaporates. Eco-friendly natural.

No more infected office. No more bugs to knock you back when you come in in the morning.

Beautiful on the balance sheet

Better still, if you’re the boss – no more absentees, better productivity, a fatter bottom line.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Whole rooms sterile safe like surgical instruments

Girl student raises hand
Safe from viruses and bacteria – in this room the germ threshold is zero

Hotels know the concept.

It’s why glasses in the bathroom are wrapped in paper – and why there’s a band across the loo.

Sanitised for your protection.

Feel-good reassurance that your room is safe and free from germs.

If only

Wouldn’t that be great?

Thing is though, that “sanitised” only means clean.

And there’s a huge difference between clean and safe.

Sure it smells clean. Except all an air freshener does is mask odours.

But hey, clean is good. It’s the first part of setting your mind at rest.

Because better still and right now, sterile surroundings are possible. With scares like Ebola and MRSA around – they’re rapidly becoming part of our everyday. Real hospital operating-room sterile, the same as a heart surgeon’s instruments.

Hospital safe

Easy too – much simpler than the sterilising autoclaves you’ll find in hospitals – which typically require high temperatures and partial vacuums to make them work.

OK, the business of cleaning still has to be done. Dirt is dirt, that requires physical scrubbing, wiping and vacuuming to be removed.

But microscopically small, germs still remain – less than before, but still a hazard. And because you can’t scrub air, they’re still filling the empty space that is most of a room – lighter than air and able to survive for weeks or more.

Time to bring in the Hypersteriliser – about the size of a small wheelie-bin, and just as manoeuvrable. Ready to sterilise your room to the same Log 6 Sterility Assurance Level that hospitals demand. All at the touch of a button.

Like hospital sterilisers, the Hypersteriliser uses ionised hydrogen peroxide gas plasma that destroys virus and bacteria cells by oxidising them into oblivion.

Low temperature ionisation

The difference is ionisation by electricity instead of heat – kinder to sensitive materials, generating less moisture and leaving no residues. And of course, instead of a small cubby-hole, the entire room becomes the sterilising chamber.

The ionised hydrogen peroxide is released into the room in an ultra-fine mist – a safe and ultra-low 6% solution, the same as you might buy in the chemist to whiten your teeth.

The cloud of molecules disperses rapidly in all directions – repelled from each other by the negative charge they all have – forcing them to the far limits of the enclosed space, hard against furniture, equipment, walls, floor and ceiling or any other objects in the room.

And of course, deep into any cracks or crevices that let them escape each other further.

The charge also energises them, releasing ozone, ultraviolet light, hydroxyl radicals and highly reactive oxygen species – oxidising atoms that actively seize harmful pathogens, attracted by their positive charge – latching onto them and ripping them to shreds.

This action dissipates the charge, the hydrogen peroxide reverts to oxygen and small amounts of water, which immediately evaporate.

How do you know it works?

You can’t see germs anyway, so you can’t see when they’re not there either.

But here’s a clue.

One indication that bacteria are active is the smell caused by infection or their reaction with organic substances. After hydrogen peroxide treatment, all odours should be gone.

The other giveaway is mould.

Dirty black and difficult to remove when active, it subsides to a pale grey as its cells die off with oxidising. Its discolouration is still there of course, but now an easy wipe should take it off – job done. No mould, no germs.

What haven’t we told you?

Ah yes, if you’re worried about using chemicals to make the room sterile, remember that hydrogen peroxide is manufactured by the body as its own germ-fighting defence. It’s a chemical yes, but occurs naturally to do exactly the same thing.

So there you have it. A way to make rooms safely sterile in around 20 – 40 minutes, depending on size.

It doesn’t kill the germs we might carry around on our bodies, or inside us.

But it does reduce the germ threshold to zero so we can’t catch anything new when we walk in.

Yes, prevention is better than cure. So here’s a hospital-type way to stay out of hospital and stay healthy too.

Should help with all the pressures they’re having right now. Phew!

UV pulse blitzes whole rooms sterile in minutes

Surprised doctor
Making safe and sterile
is a lot faster than you think

Looks are deceptive.

Here’s this machine that, for all the world, could be a compact office photocopier.

Except this particular box of tricks takes out viruses and bacteria – attacking like a death ray to destroy their DNA.

Safe, fast, sterile

Five minutes later, all germs are gone. Everywhere the death ray probed is sterile.

A death ray that is, for viruses and bacteria.

Potent for humans too, as we all know. The energy that powers it is the same that gives you sunburn – ultraviolet light. Overdo the exposure, and you’re in for an uncomfortable time.

But with this nifty Hyperpulse machine, you’re the one calling the shots.

Ultraviolet to the rescue

OK, apart from sunburn you’ve probably experienced UV before – the teenager’s big giggle. It makes that cool purple glow on the dance floor in discotheques – triggering bright fluorescent colours and showing white underwear under dark clothing.

Ah yes, but that’s not the same UV.

Also known as “black light” the show-biz version is longwave ultraviolet – UV-A. Pretty well harmless and very popular for special effects.

The stuff the Hyperpulse emits is way more powerful. Which is why it needs care.

This is UV-C – very short wavelength – on the fringes of becoming X-rays.

And no wonder it kills germs.

No wonder you should stay out of the room when it’s in use too. You don’t want to risk eye or skin damage. But if you’re curious, you can watch safely through a glass window. The short wavelength UV cannot pass through.

HIgh intensity energy

Start the machine with its remote control – and first thing a glass tube pops up out of the top, like an extending periscope. Inside is the xenon light source, the secret of the Hyperpulse’s efficiency.

Back in the good old days, germ-killing UV-C rays were generated by mercury vapour lamps – the same light source as in those ultra-bright streetlamps. The silver ones, not the orange – those are sodium vapour.

Continuous light from the mercury vapour lamps exposed the room being treated to UV-C, killed the germs and the place was sterile. Except it took several hours to do.

Technology has moved on from there, which is how the Shield Hyperpulse gets its name.

Split-second power killing

Like lightning or a photographer’s flashgun, the powerful 200 watt xenon lamp discharges UV-C energy in split-second concentrated bursts – pulsed at one second intervals to regenerate the charge.

It does the same job as the mercury vapour, but in 5 to 10 minutes, depending on room size.

That makes the Hyperpulse perfect for situations demanding rapid turn-around. A super-busy A&E, or a dentist’s surgery. Quick sterile blitz between high volume patients – 10 minutes and the facility is ready for use again.

Impossible by hand in the same time – not even just the high touch areas, like bedside rails, over-bed tables, television controls, bedside and bathroom grab-bars, or the toilet seat in the patient’s bathroom.

Which means, working under pressure in time-crunch conditions, that any form or sterilising doesn’t get done beyond a very quick wipedown. Less than perfect in a world where HAIs are an increasing concern.

Time vs efficiency

There is of course, a downside. A trade-off between quick results and maximum effectiveness. Hence the machine’s only 99,999% germicidal performance or Log 5 kill rate.

Like any light, the pulsed xenon rays cause shadows – areas where the UV-C does not penetrate – the reverse side of beds and treatment room furniture, behind or under objects in it.

One way round this is multiple exposure from different positions, moving the machine in between. Another is to position mirrors where regular coverage is required. Both extending the time to make sterile.

Better still is to supplement Hyperpulse sessions with a nightly follow up by Hypersteriliser – full Log 6 treatment with fine-mist hydrogen peroxide plasma to ensure the entire room is 99.9999% sterile.

Hiking hygiene habits higher

Expect to see more of the Hyperpulse. With antibiotics become less effective as pathogens become resistant to them, preventative hygiene is becoming more vital daily.

Over-stretched A&E working flat out, with worries about c.diff, MRSA, VRE, CRE, or acinetobacter?

99,999% gone in ten minutes.

Why go sick when you don’t need to?

Cruise ship passengers
All that money – and the best time of your life – don’t let a bug ruin it all

Think of it as a warning.

As the weather warms and thoughts turn to holidays, the first of this year’s cruise ship tummy bug outbreaks hits the headlines.

Two San Diego-based cruises to Central America and back at £1,000 a pop just for starters. Sick at sea again.

The onboard tummy bug

Norovirus again – and from the looks of it, full-on gastro. Holiday dreams of a fortnight afloat, sunk in a gut-wrenching nightmare. The price of an unguarded moment maybe in a super-cool cantina in Puerto Quetzal or Puerto Vallarta – where the locals have cast-iron tummies and the turistas drop like flies.

Avoidable, yes. The tacos de frijoles have a certain reputation.

But more likely hygiene issues in an misadventure off the beaten track.

And norovirus is highly contagious.

Get back to the ship before the symptoms set in – an enclosed space shared by 3,000 people – and the inevitable happens, everyone is sick.

Because who remembers to wash their hands and take precautions when you’re having fun? And when it’s difficult to find a place at all until you get back to your cabin?

By then of course, it’s too late. Whoever you touched, whoever you shared food and drinks with – the gastro takes hold like wildfire.

Stop it happening again

OK, the cruise people can’t stop the wayward adventure.

But they CAN minimise the outbreak and control the spread – prevent it reaching all 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew. Fewer people need to fall sick.

All it takes is a number of onboard Hypersterilisers – the whole ship sterilised by hydrogen peroxide plasma – a zero germ threshold throughout, no viruses or bacteria anywhere.

Because this is not the first outbreak on either of the ships, Celebrity Infinity or Legend of the Seas. And gastroenteritis is a major recurring onboard sickness as stressed in the US Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) own schedule for Vessel Sanitation.

A weighty document, it details exactly how a cruise ship should be sanitised after an outbreak. The hard way, by rubbing and scrubbing.

“After both ships docked, crews went to work scrubbing down every inch of the cabins and common rooms.”

Not necessarily that effective. If you think of all the inaccessible nooks and crannies that exist on a cruise ship, there are thousands of places a virus could lurk, even after a deep clean sanitation blitz.

Reinfection threat

Nor can the ship’s HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) air conditioning system do much to filter out the virus. Norovirus cells measure 0.04 microns, but the minimum size a HEPA system can filter out is only 0.3 microns.

Even though the ship has been thoroughly processed, norovirus can survive on hard surfaces for seven days or more.

By which time the ship is back in Central America in the middle of its next cruise – all ready for the new crop of passengers – with no clue where the new outbreak is coming from.

Which is why the Hypersteriliser is so vital.

Force-fed dispersal

The super-fine plasma airborne mist it generates is ionised.

Actively charged, every molecule is vigorously trying to escape from its neighbour. It spreads everywhere by force – the molecules rushing to fill the whole air space and jamming up hard against every surface – underneath, behind, everywhere.

And of course, deep into cracks and crevices.

Even better, the actively charged mist is attracted to viruses and bacteria like a high-powered magnet – grabbing them and ripping them apart by shoving oxygen atoms at them.

No germ can survive, the ship is sterilised. Any source of infection now is brought on board as food or cargo – or on the persons or in the baggage of newly joining passengers.

No bugs next time

No norovirus, no bugs of any kind. Nobody coming down sick. Your holiday is safe.

You might want to mention that to your cruise line before you embark.

Two weeks is a long time to be ill when you’re not seasick.

Why do we deprive the NHS of kindness?

Kind nurse
Kindness is personal – you feel it by example and teach it to yourself

The stories don’t go away.

Accusing headlines still roll – long after the Mid Staffs disaster.

Sloppy hygiene, indifferent  care,  patients maltreated and sidelined.

Will nothing save the NHS from self-destruction?

Once more with feeling

It’s from reports like these that the Compassion in Practice programme was begun – a nation-wide initiative led by Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England.

Compassion is so sadly lacking that a special drive is necessary to put it in place. To recognise that patients are human beings, not numbers. That feelings and sensitivities are involved.

All very laudable – but in reality, just another top-down knee-jerk from the rah-rah top dogs. To make it look like some moral responsibility is happening.

Yes, it’s an important project and the people involved in it are obviously committed to the hilt. It’s also doomed to token responses and indifference across the board.

Lip service

Why?

Because though its focus is compassion, in the misguided real world we’ve created for ourselves, our culture no longer includes kindness.

We have become mean, selfish and bad-tempered in ways that would shock our parents. The product of our go-faster, results-driven, material-grabbing society.

And strong though it is, the Compassion in Practice programme is no match for our ingrained reflex of only looking out for Number One.

Its very credo demonstrates the background from which it has sprung: Care, Compassion, Competence, Communication, Courage and Commitment.

Take out “Compassion” and it could be any double-speak marketing plan from selling life insurance to toothpaste. Our sales teams care, we bring you the best through Competence, Communication, Courage and Commitment.

You’ve been a customer. You’ve heard it before.

Poppycock!

All those invisible words strung together to be saluted while the company hymn is sung. Meaningless promises of nothing from their overuse. Right over the heads of patients and medical staff alike.

A real issue

Which is a crying shame because it IS important. Compassion, that is.

People ARE lying in hospital and suffering unnecessarily.

Ignored, unattended and forgotten because that is the way we treat everything in our online, mobile-obsessed, narcissistic society.

Yes, Compassion. But where is the kindness?

Taken away because all of us are stampeded for time.

Gotta get results. Gotta go, go, go.

Come on, let’s move – we’ve got targets here.

Targets!

The most deadly concept ever applied to the NHS. (Tweet this)

Again because people are people, not numbers. And people need time to be treated right. As far away from targets as you could possibly get.

Give of yourself

Because kindness is time.

And sorry, that means none of the “time is money” principles of modern cut-throat business apply here.

Time is giving of yourself and we’re too damn full of ourselves to allow it. It’s the prevailing culture and we’re all immersed in it all the time.

Of course, doctors and nurses try to step out of it – and a lot of them succeed.

Only to get chucked straight back into it, coming off duty. Back to the rat-race – traffic jams, bus queues, grab-while-you-can supermarket offers and first-come-first-served push-shove living.

All of which is the world’s worst experience when you’re ill.

When you’re not yourself and things won’t work properly – scared and unsure you will ever survive.

And all around you is the driving myth that there aren’t enough hours in the day.

That everything must be short, bite-sized and razor-sharp to get through what is needed.

The minimum of care, concern, courtesy, considerateness, cognizance of others and consciousness of their needs.

Impossible to sign up to without time.

Not us any more

Because kindness requires reflexes we no longer have. Listening, paying attention, thinking of others, responding to them with respect and dignity.

You can’t learn these in a weekend workshop. Or wave around a certificate claiming you’ve got them.

They’re life skills we learn the hard way from birth, vital capabilities that get used every day. Or should.

Disciplines that make us better than we are.

That lift us up from being also-rans in the rat-race – into feeling, caring human beings who really do give a damn about the world around us and the people in it.

Kindness in the NHS?

Back to being human

It’s there all right. And it’s up to us to encourage it by our own example. To give Jane Cummings and her team the co-operation, support and teeth that they need.

To prove that Compassion in Practice really does inspire Care, Compassion, Competence, Communication, Courage and Commitment.

To get away from those staff abuse posters that are a daily indictment of the lives we lead.

To get away from the mindset none of us believe anyway. Your call IS important, we care about our customers. Currently, you are Number 17 in a queue.

To be polite and thoughtful even though waiting times are long. To co-operate at every turn to make staff’s work easier. To act with kindness ourselves and inspire it in return.

Because what goes around, comes around.

And it’s not necessarily the NHS that’s to blame.

It’s us.