Monthly Archives: June 2015

Good germs, bad germs – just make sure you’re safe

Good cop - bad cop
Invisible good and bad – one 10,000th of a millimetre in size

A bit of a head-scratcher this. Since our body cells are outnumbered by bacteria 10 to 1.

That’s 100 trillion microbes in the average HEALTHY body – believe it or not – bacteria and human beings getting along just fine.

Which raises a whole issue about keeping safe from germs.

Killing ourselves

Anything we might use to sanitise, disinfect or sterilise could actually attack us – killing some of the very bacteria we need to keep healthy.

You see, we’re not infested by these germs – like free-loaders out for what they can get. They pay rent to be with us. Especially with food intake and digestion.

That first hunger-driven chomp into a juicy burger meets over 7½ billion bacteria in the first second in your mouth – more than the number of people on Earth.

With every chew and swallow, a whole mess of processing takes place, preparing your food for being turned into energy – by the two to three POUNDS of bacteria that live in your gut.

Without them, no digestion. In fact you’d be pretty ill, all that food with nowhere to go, eventually poisoning your system.

Living with germs

So yeah, germs in our bodies.

Better take it easy with that chlorine bleach in the kitchen. That could bring big trouble – as your nose tells you by the way it bites. The body knows it’s harmful – and the smell you experience is a warning.

But you’ve got to get rid of germs, right? The bad things that kill.

The body is under threat when stuff decomposes or putrefies – blitz it fast, before you get infected!

Actually, there’s a whole bunch of experts who reckon we’re wrong to keep zapping germs. That our paranoia with pathogens indiscriminately kills good and bad alike, destroying useful microbes and upsetting the natural balance.

OK, we’ll buy it – but not all the time.

Away in the Great Outdoors, there’s not much we can do anyway. The wind blows, germs come and go – we could get infected any time.

Except we don’t usually – and one microbe by itself is not enough to take on the whole human body – unless it gets awful lucky. And ordinary air movement disperses germs anyway, so they don’t stand much chance.

Indoors, in danger

Anyway, we don’t live like that most of the time, do we?

We’re indoors, in our “built environment”. Enclosed air spaces, shared living areas. Our bio-auras of germs – the surrounding cloud of microbes we all carry around with us – all intermingling and mixing.

And if any of us happen to be infected with something – contaminating each other.

Which is what happens in a classroom full of kids. Thirty of them together, for up to six hours at a time. Breathing the same air, touching the same objects and each other – bio-auras fully exposed.

So two of them have rhinovirus – perfectly normal variations of the common cold – sneezing and coughing, but determined to stay in the loop. Yeah, well. Most of the other kids are healthy enough – a few days of discomfort if they come down with it. Nothing to worry about.

Except we’re not all equal are we? And we don’t all have the same health levels.

In any group of people you like, a large proportion invariably have some kind of underlying medical condition. Two or three in our classroom of kids – as high as 10% – asthma, TB and one of them with early cancer.

So how fair is it on them when rhinovirus hits – as it probably will, at six hours exposure per day, every day? And how sick will they be with the complications a common cold can bring?

Sure, let’s not destroy all germs everywhere willy-nilly because we’re paranoid about getting sick.

Protection where it counts

But doesn’t it make sense to treat selected areas where we’re more at risk?

With more people on top of each other at school than at home, school is a more likely place to pick up infection.

So is the office, or factory, or supermarket, or train, or bus – higher germ concentrations from a greater number of sources. More infections to choose from, higher odds of catching one.

But one disinfected school room – or even a whole school – does not destroy the eco-balance if it is treated to protect the weak. The greater world is too big – and goes on being just the same outside.

Besides, once our kids move back into their school room after treatment, their own bio-auras will re-populate the “germosphere” very quickly. A tummy bug like e. coli for instance, can double its bacteria every 20 minutes.

Yeah, the kids are still exposed – but not to the same level.

Mist up that schoolroom with sterilising hydrogen peroxide gas plasma from a Hypersteriliser and the germ threshold falls to zero – no viruses, no bacteria, totally sterile – in 40 minutes.

The kids start from totally safe – no lingering germs from yesterday, or the day before – not on surfaces, and not floating around in the air either – the room is totally NEUTRAL.

Germ zero

A lot safer than letting things ride – because some pathogenic nasties can survive outside a body for weeks or more. And wouldn’t it be luck of the draw if it was YOUR kid that came down with it?

Your own flesh and blood – in an isolation ward with with the first case of bubonic plague for 300 years – chance infection by an 8-year-old new kid – an immune carrier from Madagascar, where the disease still affects hundreds, every year.

Good germs, bad germs. Life and death.

Why take chances?

Why washbasins are useless and obsolete

Ssh hand to lips
It’s no secret – and it’s time we talked about this

No, no, not the washbasin you have in the bathroom at home.

How else are you going to do your teeth, rinse your hair – and all the thousand and one other things that require your ingenuity?

In the big wide world

Away from home though, is a different matter – the washbasins you encounter at work, in the shopping mall, at the airport – and let’s not forget motorway services.

Yes, we can feel that disapproving look. Not your best experience, eh?

Because even in the poshest designer washrooms, it seems this is an issue we’ve never got right. Those washbasins are as much of a switch-off as anything else.

Not to look at – they probably reek Italian chic.

We mean to actually use – to stand in front of the thing and do what you’re supposed to do.

Wash your hands.

Won’t, or don’t?

We’re beginning to understand now why this is an issue so many of us brush aside. Hence the same shocking statistics we’re always banging on about:

We’re not thinking this right, are we? Not addressing the REAL problem.

For which we’re really sorry – we owe you and ourselves a massive apology.

Just try actually washing your hands in any of these away from home washroom places, and you’ll see why. Yeah, they look very swish and impressive, but did anyone ever follow this thing through?

Let’s start with the plug.

Uh huh, usually there isn’t one. Back in the day, people used to swipe them – but nowadays that’s to encourage you to put your hands under running water – more convenient, more hygienic. They even have infrared sensors, so the taps switch on automatically – no touching anything, just hold your hands underneath.

Messy, messy

Problem right there.

Although you’re holding your hands over this large dish-shaped catch area, the water cascades off the back of your hands, slooshing onto the vanity slab around the basin as you move them about.

And if you’re the type who wets your hands before applying soap, you’ll also find water dripping everywhere as you reach for the dispenser.

OK, now you’re into it and getting energetic, working your fingers every which way and over the backs of your hands too. Lots more watery splatter – over the vanity slab and onto the mirror behind.

You might also find, as you move your hands back and forth, that the taps are a little too enthusiastic – water slooshes out of the front of the basin over your clothes – or onto the floor if you’re quick enough to see it coming and step back sharpish.

Right, you’re done and you rinse the soap away – awkwardly at arm’s length to avoid the puddle of water at your feet. Tiles, slippery, accident waiting to happen. Bad, Jim.

The drying nightmare

Your hands are wet, and your next problem is getting them dry. And when we say wet, we mean sopping – they’ve just been under the tap.

So what’s the first thing you do?

Instinctive this – you shake off the excess, just like that wonderful and brilliant man Joe Smith shows us we should.

Yeah, shake it off – just like the family dog. More water splatter, all over the place – and as we’ve observed elsewhere, with germs of all kinds in the drops.

Now you’ve got to dry yourself. But not at the vanity slab you won’t.

Any paper towel stacked on there will be an awful soggy mess. So somewhere else there’s a machine fixed to the wall – either a paper towel dispenser or one of those jet turbine blow jobs. Or worse, a clunka-chunka pull-down linen towel – already wet from other people.

Not the most enjoyable experience of your life, right?

The Ew! factor

Because do you feel clean and refreshed, or somehow short-changed and tainted? The same way you might feel if the actual loo you tried to use stank of noisesome nastiness, and hadn’t been flushed in six months?

Hoo boy! No wonder so many people don’t wash their hands after going to the loo. Or should we say AVOID washing their hands after going to the loo?

Because how would YOU shape up to it – sopping vanity slab, water splatters all around, a spreading puddle on the floor underneath? If you could avoid it, you would, right?

Which why we say that washbasins are useless and obsolete – fine for the Nineteenth Century, but the way of the dodo now.

Waterless sanitising

Because the alternative that already exists – and we all know about – is to avoid yuckiness altogether and use a sanitising gel.

No water to splatter around, spreading more germs than we wash off – no problem with drying.

One quick squidge and we’re away, wiggling it round our fingers until it evaporates. Healthy, hygienic – what’s the problem?

Getting it to you at the right time of course, making it easy to use too.

Your hands have icky stuff on them, yes? So you don’t want to touch anything.

So there needs to be an automatic squidger right there at the loo, to dispense the stuff onto your hands before you move away. One of those infrared sensor thingies could do the job – let it squirt out a handful from underneath one of them.

OK, now you move away, fingers already working the gel. By the time you get to the door, your hands are already dry. And there’s no germs on the handle when you touch it – the INSIDE one, that is – because everybody else’s hands are germ-free too.

Washbasins, yuck.

In this still new and shining Twenty-First Century, why do we still put up with them?

Positive edge to beating viruses and bacteria

Woman with jump leads
Positive, negative – the physics of attraction

It’s nothing short of electrifying.

You’d never know because they’re so small, but viruses and bacteria all carry an electrical charge.

Like tiny nano-batteries, they’re positive on the outside and negative on the inside – their own internal power source and life force.

Micro electricity

Even more amazing, their power can make them blink, giving off flashes like Christmas tree lights. If one of their cells contains a voltage-sensitive protein, they glow on and off.

Our all-time favourite, escherichia coli for instance, easily generates a voltage difference – possibly the resource it uses to resist antibiotics.

GOTCHA!

Because positively-charged pathogens like e.coli, norovirus, or even Ebola are sitting targets for anything negatively-charged. Remember magnets at school? Opposite charges attract – so strongly that they reach out and grab.

OK, so grab!

And the grabber we’re talking about is also a super-powerful oxidiser.

Which means instant trouble for “bad guy” viruses and bacteria because they’re anaerobic – they don’t live on oxygen, but glycogen. All the time they’re living inside us – infecting us and killing us – they breathe blood sugar.

Pathogens destroyed

So if an oxidiser with live oxygen atoms suddenly clamps onto them, they’re instant history. The oxygen atoms rip them apart and they die.

Which is what hydrogen peroxide does. IONISED hydrogen peroxide.

Misted up into a super-fine vapour then charged with high-voltage, it changes state from a gas into a plasma – a kind of super-gas that releases a whole load more of extra antimicrobials – hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone and ultraviolet.

This germ-killing cocktail is exactly how it disperses from a Hypersteriliser – a nifty doohickey about the size of a small wheelie-bin, that sterilises enclosed spaces totally free from germs – no viruses, no bacteria, nothing.

Negatively-charged, the mist molecules seek and aggressively latch onto the positively-charged outers of viruses and bacteria, the oxygen does its stuff – end of story.

Except it gets better.

Spreads everywhere

Ionising the hydrogen peroxide means all its molecules are released with the same charge.

Remember magnets again? Like charges repel – so all those molecules are violently trying to escape from each other – forcibly driven apart and away.

Not drifting like an ordinary gas – remember this is a plasma – but actively scattered in all directions, pressed up hard against things, reaching under and behind, stretching deep into cracks and crevices. All the places that germs can lurk where ordinary wipe-down cleaning cannot reach.

And of course, through the air too – 80% of the space in any room – exactly where most germs are. At less than a 10,000th of a millimetre across, they’re so light that they ride every waft of air – just waving your hand around probably stirs up billions.

Yes, you’ve got it. Wherever those viruses and bacteria are – on the ceiling, clinging to the computer cables in the corner, on the underside of the desk – they are suddenly no more. Forty minutes average exposure, and they’re gone.

Ah! But what about the microbes that DO live on oxygen, the aerobic ones?

OK, there are exceptions, but most of these are the good guys – the billions and billions and billions that play a beneficial role in the functioning of Earth’s ecosystem. Bacteria in yoghurt, right? Or sauerkraut with your hot dog.

Among the odd ones out though, is mycobacterium tuberculosis – as it’s name implies, the cause of TB. But there’s a grabber for that too – and all other aerobes. One that also kills by oxidising.

Silver lining

Contained in the same mist that the Hypersteriliser deploys is silver – specifically colloidal silver – silver particles suspended in a liquid. And silver is a known antimicrobial from centuries back – one of the reasons we eat with silver cutlery or carry silver crucifixes to ward off evil spirits.

Bye, bye everything – the whole place is sterile. Safe until the first one of us walks in, trailing our own bio-aura of bacteria around us.

But even then we’re protected. A microscopically thin layer of colloidal silver coats all surfaces in the room – a lasting shield against infection for up to weeks afterwards.

We said positive edge, didn’t we?

Feel safer now?

How we pay for being the Great Unwashed

Stressed woman
We cause our own illnesses and never know why

It’s the cause of just about every sickness we’ll ever have – sloppy hygiene that leaves us open to infection.

Sure, Great Unwashed is not a handle any of us like.

But it’s accurate, however much we may be in denial.

Hurry, hurry!

And if we think about it for more than two seconds, we’ll recognise the truth – and ourselves. Being the Great Unwashed is the downside of this fast-paced life we live, stampeded into Go-Go-Go! all the time.

Yeah, we’re unwashed – and here’s the dirt on us – the Never-Never society – never wash, never clean, never healthy:

Pretty gruesome, hey?

Because somehow our culture is all screwed up – we expect to bathe and groom regularly, but there’s so little focus on washing hands.

Start with your own home. Nice shower, nice bath – the indulgence of getting clean, symbolic for so many of us in washing away the day, soaking away our troubles.

Style isn’t everything

But how about the loo? Not how stylish it looks, or the indulgence of its heated seat – but how far is it from the basin? How easy is it to clean your hands after a major session and you need to get rid of the yuck?

Kind of OK if you’re about to have a shower or bath. Not so good if you’re ready to go to work and on your way out of there.

Because what’s the first thing you do after using the toilet paper? Pull up your pants, right? ‘Cos you can’t shuffle to the basin tied up like a chain-gang con. But you haven’t washed your hands yet, so whatever’s on them is transferred to your pants – and any other clothing you might fix at the same time.

Ew! Which brings us to another gross-out:

So somehow you make it to the basin and you hit the taps – yuck on your clothes and now on the handles. Will you remember to wash them off? Make that a maybe.

It’s easier though, if the basin is next to the loo. With any luck, you might be able to scrub up while sitting on the hopper. Not easy, skewing yourself around – but do-able if you’re determined.

Exactly the opposite if you have a separate loo. It’s a whole mission to get yourself back on your feet and ready to move, so chances are you forget about the whole business and get the heck out of Dodge.

Dirty dinner

Puts a whole new complexion on the “guest’s cloaks” you have under the stairs, doesn’t it? If it’s just a toilet and no basin, visitors will just have to sit down at your dinner party as if everything’s OK.

Which is exactly where our problem starts.

We THINK of ourselves as a clean society and we THINK we’re OK. Our hands LOOK clean, so we ASSUME they are. No visible germs, so it never occurs to us that there are any.

AND WE GO THROUGH THE WHOLE DAY LIKE THAT!

All the time we have the mind-set that because our hands look clean, there’s no need to worry. Which is how come it’s possible we might sit down to dinner in a restaurant with no soap and water coming anywhere near our hands since before breakfast. Don’t you love curry, all that touch-feely eating-with-your-fingers stuff?

And never mind how clean your hands started out, what have you touched during the day that might have added to the invisible nasties that are already there? What did you pick up? What did you throw away? Who did you shake hands with? What did you have to wipe off?

How about money? Well for a start, the shock merchants will sound off that 90% of US dollar bills are contaminated with cocaine. But worse, paper money can easily carry more germs than a toilet – e. coli, enterobacter, salmonella, acinetobacter, staphylococcus aureus, bacillus, streptococcus pneumoniae, norovirus, take your pick.

Uh huh. Then how about credit cards, ATMs, mobiles, supermarket trolleys and the rest? When do they ever get cleaned? And yet we think they’re safe – well sure we do, because why don’t we wash our hands after touching them?

Do you know where it’s been?

But do you know what we touch more than anything else – dirty hands or whatever? Our faces, 2,000 – 3,000 times a day. Our most sensitive, vulnerable places – eyes, nose and mouth – every germ’s favourite way into the body.

Remember norovirus? Extreme cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, the works – the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease, probably the best proof yet that we’re The Great Unwashed.

We don’t think of ourselves as that, but we are. And until we wake up and do something about it, all kinds of horrible things can happen to us – and it will all be our fault.

Urgent update to medics: ALL germs are airborne

Woman fighting wind
Reality check – germs, viruses, everything up to a full-blown house can fly

It comes at you as a blast.

A dry, dusty gust in the Underground.

Grit stings your face and flies into your eye.

Your blink – a grain of dust at least as big as an elephant.

You blink again, realisation this time. Airborne dirt maybe 50 microns across. Feels like 50 miles, scratching across your eye.

Riding the wind

The train arrives and you step in.

You do the math – 0.05 of a millimetre. Ten thousand times bigger than a typical germ cell.  Eighty thousand times bigger than the cell of Ebola they discovered in that doctor’s eye two months after he was declared clear.

The train moves off and you pull out a tissue. Your eye is watering like crazy. The train lurches and a corner of the tissue stabs your cornea. Hurts like hell, but you’ve got the dust particle out. A boulder, the size of a small car.

You blink again, feeling better – turning your head from the constant draft through the open window between the cars.

You think hurricane, you think tornado. You’ve seen clips of storms picking up cars. You suddenly remember about jet streams – powerful winds six miles up, blowing a 350-ton Boeing 777 200 mph faster than its normal cruising speed.

And the penny drops.

Everything flies

Just yesterday you read that the MERS outbreak in South Korea could be going airborne.

For sure it could. You’ve just had a boulder several thousand times larger than any MERS cell slam into your eye. One grain of grit out of many. A whole cloud of them blown down the tube tunnel. You even coughed last time, remember? How many grains was that?

And how many cells of MERS could that be, clustered together?

50? 500? 5,000? And still way smaller than your grain of dirt.

A single cell wouldn’t do it of course, the body’s immune system is too good..

But 5,000 cells in a clump? All gulped in with a gasp of air, straight to your lungs – exactly as suspected in the spread of South Korean hospital cases – breathing through ventilator apparatus before diagnosis pointed to contaminated air.

Now your mind is in gear.

Effortless anywhere

If air can move cars, shifting bacteria is nothing.

Literally nothing.

At 20 nanometres, a single cell of rhinovirus is so small it has no gravity. It can ride the air indefinitely – just like billions and billions of other living microbes. Viruses or bacteria, no matter which – even the largest of them is barely a micrometre.

If there’s a fan going in the special care wing of a hospital in super-hot Saudi Arabia (where the virus was first reported), you wouldn’t want to be sitting downwind from a MERS patient.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Germs can transport pretty well anywhere without effort – both “airborne” ones and the types you can only catch on contact. They weigh nothing, so they can linger too.

Wheel the patient out of the room and the germs are still there.

Lingering threats

OK, so a hit team moves in and deep cleans the place – really thorough, complete wipedown of everything with sodium hypochlorite.

But your mind still tells you – germs in the air, germs in the air.

Not good enough – 80% of that room space is air.

They could be lurking at head height. Clustered behind the vital signs monitor. Down the back of the bedside cabinet. Jeepers, everywhere – and the room’s just been cleaned!

Which is when you know you need a Hypersteriliser. Ionised hydrogen peroxide that actively disperses everywhere – right through the air, deep into cracks and crevices. Oxidising germs on contact, ripping apart their cell structure. 40 minutes, and the place is sterile. No viruses, no bacteria anywhere.

So yeah, MERS might be a problem. That whole host of others too – especially those rogues resistant to antibiotics.

They might be airborne, they might be clinging on tight. But we have a defence.

And in this particular room – whenever you want – all germs are dead.

You’re actually suing the cruise line for norovirus? Seriously?

Doubtful doctor
Norovirus? Most of us are so careless, we give it to ourselves

You might just want to re-think that.

Because you know it’s a virus, don’t you?

Like a common cold – and just as easy to catch. Just as common too.

You even catch it the same way. No, not by breathing – by contact.

Spread by touch

Not necessarily from someone who’s got it either. But by touching anything with germs on it that might give it to you.

Like door handles, hand rails, ATM keypads, mobiles, vending machines, PDQ card machines, access panels, serving tongs, self-service coffee flasks, turnstiles, keys, light switches, pens, shopping baskets, clothing racks, jewellery trays, salt & pepper shakers, menus, table mats, audio guides, poker chips, playing cards, billiard cues, bowling balls… you get the picture.

All fomites – the things we touch, that other people touch, that transmit germs. And our faces too – like 3,000 times a day.

Uh, huh. So it’s on your hands, right?

And when did you last wash your hands before getting on the boat?

So that you washed off whatever might have contaminated you before you touched your eyes, your nose or your mouth – the usual way that germs enter your body.

Or after using the loo?

Uncomfortable facts

Because 62% of men and 40% of women NEVER wash their hands after going to the toilet.

Is that you?

And even if you did, 95% of people don’t wash their hands properly.

Is that you too?

How about that only 12% of people wash their hands before eating?

If you can honestly say that you washed you hands after touching all of these things – and after going to the loo – as well as before you ate anything – you might just have a case.

But we don’t just mean before you boarded the ship. We mean EVER.

Because norovirus takes anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to show itself.

So unless you can guarantee that you washed your hands before you ate anything, or touched your face for the two days before you got on the boat – AND kept them washed while you were on board – AND made sure they were washed during your shore excursions – you’re telling porkies.

Who’s really to blame

Sure it’s not nice when the cruise you paid all that money for is cut short with norovirus. But that’s not necessarily the cruise line’s fault – in fact it seldom is. Wash Hands Logo

You got it, most cases of norovirus are caused by the victims themselves. That’s why we call it the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease – and if anyone should take blame, it’s the person in the mirror.

We’re all too slap-happy, aren’t we? All too used to this casual lifestyle that allows us to get away with pretty well anything – including liberties with our health.

We could avoid the common cold too, if we washed our hands more often. OK, we could get sneezed at, but that’s not how most of us catch it. So we pay for our dirty hands with germy misery.

Lengthening the odds

Which means if you’re suing the cruise line, that it’s not just you that has to take precautions against norovirus. It’s your 1,350 fellow passengers as well – double that, if you’re on one of the big jobs.

1,350 people who can genuinely promise that they washed their hands carefully at the right times for the two days before embarking – and the whole duration that you were on the water.

You’re all together, see? Literally in the same boat – lots and lots of you sharing the same enclosed space, almost on top of each other – in close contact for weeks, or even months. A travelling hygiene hotspot if ever there was one.

Which makes it amazing that cruise lines are so successful at keeping illnesses away as much as they do. Out of hundreds of cruises every year, carrying upwards of 20 million passengers, only a handful run into norovirus or other illnesses – less than 1%.

Meanwhile, back here in UK, we’re still waiting for the sun to shine.

Atishoo!

You still sure you want to sue those guys?

Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease ships into So’ton

Sad sailor
Cheer up, this is a cruise –
you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself

They know this bug in Southampton.

Seems every few weeks there’s another cruise ship in to be deep-cleaned and fumigated – another hospital ward closed and out of action.

This time it’s Fred Olsen’s flagship Balmoral again, back less than a month after the last norovirus hit. A setback this fine Norwegian cruise line does not deserve – especially when it looks like a passenger brought it on board with them.

No cure, no warning

But that’s the thing with norovirus – the complete lack of warning. Today you’re right as rain, 48 hours later you’re as sick as a dog.

That poor passenger walked up the gangplank, all fine and dandy – to be struck down with cramps and endless hours on the hopper. And endless more, driving the bus.

Not fair.

Er, almost. At least it’s not the cruise line’s fault.

But that’s the other thing about norovirus. Most of the time we bring it on ourselves.

Oh yes, we do.

Because without a doubt, the biggest cause of norovirus is not washing our hands – which almost all of us forget to do when we’re having fun. Or avoid.

Not a wise mistake to make. Norovirus is easily spread and highly contagious. The Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

All those things you touch

You pick it up slamming a taxi door – next moment you’re wolfing a chicken and bacon baguette between meetings and – boom! You didn’t wash your hands, did you? You swallowed the germs. Two days time and you’re hurling your guts out.

Maybe not even a taxi. Between us we have scary bad habits.

So it’s not IF you get norovirus, but WHEN.Wash Hands Logo

Unless you wash your hands – get rid of the germs that surround you every day whenever you can. Otherwise, you get on a cruise ship and it goes round like wildfire.

Well of course it does – there’s thousands of you all living close next-door to each other, sharing the same bathrooms, eating in the same space. It’s a wonder they ever stop it at all.

Unlucky for some

And just occasionally they don’t – like on this latest cruise with the Balmoral.

They could have been unlucky though, as happened to Holland America Line’s Amsterdam, back in 2002. The stuff lingers, you see – can survive on all kinds of surfaces for weeks. And cruise ships are usually turned round in just days – they can’t afford myths.

Four times, one after the other, Amsterdam set out on a new cruise – and four times, one after the other, norovirus made her turn back, hardly into the voyage. There are so many nooks and crevices on a cruise liner, even deep cleaning may not get all of the bug out – they even had to scrub individual poker chips in the casino!

A more effective way

Easier to use Hypersterilisers – a whole batch of them ganged together can do the ship overnight.

They work on ionised hydrogen peroxide, see. Negatively-charged microscopic molecules all repelling each other, forcing themselves into the tightest, smallest, most out-of-the-way places, trying to escape each other.

Riding up into the air too – and hard up against every surface. Underneath and behind too. Actively dispersing like no ordinary disinfectant spray ever can – a supercharged gas plasma grabbing at positively charged viruses and bacteria it meets on the way and oxidising them to destruction.

All viruses, all bacteria – norovirus too. And Ebola, if you’re cruising West Africa.

And safe too – reverting back to just oxygen and water when it’s done. No need for masks like they had to wear on Balmoral – though it can catch your throat when it’s working, so best to stay away for the odd hour.

No smell either – no chemical after-pong or nothing.

A good thing too. Smell is a good give-away that germs are still working – the easy way to tell that food is off. It’s why the loo pongs too – if it’s not clean.

But with hydrogen peroxide, you get zut. Sweet nothing at all.

No norovirus either. All ship-shape and shiny fresh.

Enjoy your trip.

How down and dirty could save your life

Dirty faced woman
Our immune systems might have the dirt on germs – but we still need to wash our hands all the time

No, not beauty treatment or anything like that.

Forget Dead Sea mud and all the pampering clinics. This is good eat-dirt-to-make-healthy-bodies thinking – otherwise known as the “hygiene hypothesis”.

Oh, and you’ve got to do it before you’re more than twelve months old. After that, your immune system is no longer working in turbo mode to remember all the germs it knows how to conquer.

Know your enemy

Actually, the body does keep on discovering these as you get older, but not at the same pace.

Kids who grow up on a farm for instance, are more resistant to allergies and infection. Even early exposure to animal faeces and cockroach droppings seems to be beneficial – in weird conflict with keeping clean and washing our hands all the time.

But there is reason in the madness.

Our immune systems learn how to recognise and fight life-threatening micro-organisms in later life. They even acquire memories of germs they’ve never encountered – hostile pathogens never experienced before that have never entered our bodies.

Segue fast forward to adulthood and the same principle applies.

Developing immunity

Because it seems around half of us have developed an immunity to flu so strong, we just never come down with it any more – no coughs, sneezes, headaches, fever. They just pass us by. Previous infections have built up our resistance, so that our bodies can tell flu viruses to get lost.

And yep, it seems to work against pandemic flu too – we’re able to withstand oncoming waves of bird flu, swine flu and maybe even SARS as well. Not from eating dirt, but from previous exposure to milder infections that teach our immune systems how to handle the real villains.

Kinda like the analogy with cowpox and smallpox.

For centuries, smallpox was a killer virus that caused misery for millions with pus-filled blisters all over the body. But in 1796, Edward Jenner, a doctor in Gloucestershire, discovered that previous exposure to cowpox – a familiar problem on farms – produced immunity to smallpox.

“Vacca” is the Latin word for cow – from which we get “vaccine,” a protection from viruses – and “vaccination”, the jab we get to protect us. Actually for cowpox it’s a series of tiny jabs dipped in vaccine solution – a mild reaction blister develops, but disappears in two weeks – and we are protected.

Washing hands is always vital

All of which does not mean that we should ignore daily hygiene, or that it’s safe to run around with dirty hands.

It was another doctor, Joseph Lister, who discovered that surgery patients were dying because infections were transferred from one case to another by surgeons who did not realise the significance of washing hands between treatments.

And yes, he’s the guy after whom Listerine is named, originally an antiseptic, but now a mouthwash.

We might have immunities, but there’s still plenty of germs out there we haven’t encountered yet – all too ready to do the dirty on us if we stop being careful. (Tweet this)

And the Lister story is significant because it’s about transferring germs, spreading them on contact – either directly, or by things we touch in common with other people – door handles, mobiles, keyboards, knives and forks – what the medics call “fomites”.

Hygiene to protect others

Our immunities aren’t all the same either. So while WE might be safe from a particular germ, the kid at the next desk in school – or the colleague alongside us at work – other people might not be.

How fair is it to give them our germs – infect them with a bug we’re immune to – because we’re too forgetful to wash our hands?

Yes, “down and dirty” teaches our bodies to be strong when we’re infants. It’s also how we need to fight germs when we’re older. All or nothing, brute force, get rid of them.Rediscover Hygiene logo

Because living in communities of others as we do – all of us different – there’s no one-size-fits-all protection we can share.

Except washing hands.

Life-saving habits

Except doing everything to keep germs away from any of us who are vulnerable. To stop any cross-contamination. To keep everything around us clean and germ-free for the same reason. Even to using a Hypersteriliser to sterilise the living space around us.

Dead and gone, germs can’t touch us.

So let’s give them their own dirty treatment straight back again.

MERS in South Korea – but what about here?

Pensive doctor in mask
We should worry about keeping our hands clean more than covering our face

The pictures are pretty scary.

People in face masks everywhere.

In shops. At work. On buses and trains. Teams of white-suited hit units spraying disinfectant. Trucks doing the same thing down city roads. Schools closed.

In South Korea, they take MERS seriously.

So should we.

MERS ticket to anywhere

It arrived on a plane to Seoul from the Middle East, carried by just one 68-year-old man. They’ve had a single case in Germany too.

Hop on a plane and your virus is suddenly the other side of the world. Riyadh airport has about 400 aircraft movements a day – Jeddah, around the same – almost half the traffic of Heathrow.

Which ought to be a wake up call for us here in UK.

Not for MERS, which is actually quite difficult to catch and probably less of a threat than it’s pumped up to be. But for any other kind of virus or bacteria that might be more easily spread.

Why?

Because the South Koreans handle these things properly – on top of it from the word go, hazmat suits and sprays everywhere. And they’re already on the case working jointly with the Saudis.

Not like us slap-happy Brits. Did you see anything like the Korean thing when we had that SARS outbreak a few years back? Or the swine flu?

Seems the only people wearing face masks back then were foreigners who knew the risk – or actual containment teams busy with handling the emergency.

Sloppy hygiene

Not that face masks are the big thing that we Brits need to worry about. Our personal hygiene levels are so lacking, it’s a wonder we’re not pegging off left, right and centre every day.

Our number one risk is from hands. And small wonder:

Which is why we keep reading stories about norovirus – the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease – breaking out all over.

Last month Toby Carvery, HMS Raleigh and the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. This month The Western Isles Hospital, celebs at Glastonbury and the Longmynd Hotel in Shropshire.

The things we touch

But it’s not just norovirus. Dirty hands can transmit any number of diseases faster than you could imagine. Like Ebola, or typhoid, or the Black Death – all of them fatal unless you’re lucky. (Tweet this)

Wash Hands LogoAnd sorry, it’s not like putting on a mask and you’re safe – putting on latex gloves will get you precisely nowhere. You actually have to wash your hands, particularly before food and after the loo .

Because if nothing else, you actually touch your face up to 3,000 times a day without thinking about it – favourite entry into the body of every virus and bacteria – through the soft tissue of the eyes, nose and mouth.

Protect the space around us

There’s another defence we don’t think about either – which the Koreans are showing us in every news update. Spraying disinfectant everywhere, so that places are safe BEFORE they’re used again.

Except we can go one better with the Hypersteriliser. To actually sterilise the spaces we live and work in, so that ALL viruses and bacteria are gone.

Just one machine, misting up with ionised hydrogen peroxide automatically, is way easier, quicker (about 40 minutes a room) and more effective than teams of hazmat experts spraying sodium hypochlorite everywhere – 99.9999% of all germs destroyed.

But of course, this is Britain, so we’ll just fudge along until something major happens – then blame the NHS or the government or somebody for letting it happen..

Not to any of us though – we’re going to keep our hands clean.

After you with the soap.

You want ALL germs gone or just some of them?

Satisfied woman
If there aren’t any germs, what are we worried about?

Just possibly the craziest thing we do is all live together.

We all want be on top of each other, gathered in tight groups – 37 million in Tokyo, 20 million in New York City, 8.5 million in London – crowds and crowds of us in cities all over the world.

Are we nuts?

How on earth did we decide to do this? It’s not what our bodies are designed for. Physically we’re still hunter-gatherers, meant to be living out in the open. Clustered in groups, yes – but only large enough to ensure survival when very young or old.

Worse, we choose to live in enclosed environments – always surrounded by walls.

Of course, we don’t see it like that, prettied up with windows and doors and décor and bric-a-brac – in fact we kind of like it. Reality is though, that we’re most of the time sealed off from the world outside.

Hemmed in and forced to react with each other, our metabolisms interlink too. All of us in hives, sharing a common existence.

Except we don’t, do we?

We’re not the same

We don’t do the same things, share the same interests, eat the same foods, or follow the same lifestyle. Neither do our bodies – each of which it totally unique and different.

Which boggles the mind when you think of how germs impact on us. Especially since we’re more germs than human ourselves – inhabited by 90 trillion microbes, which outnumber our own body cells by around 10 to 1.

Uh, huh. You understand now why medics see us as so many different biological signatures. The bacteria that colonise one are not the same as those that colonise any other. Our bio-auras are different.

We walk around trailing our unique bacteria-clouds with us, each as distinctively different as our fingerprints and retina scans. Count on it, in the future, CSI forensic teams will be able to ID us by the bio-traces we leave behind – like recognising our perfume, but 100% more pin-point.

Thing is though, with all these bacteria-systems overlapping, we’re constantly exposed to an intensified spectrum of germ challenges – way more than our immune systems would face if we were living out in the sticks where we started.

OK, fine – as long as everything is neutral.

Whoops

But as soon as one of us gets a cold, it tips the balance.

Now just maybe we grew up with our immune systems exposed to colds on such a regular basis, our resistance is higher than anyone else’s. We’re OK, nothing to worry about.

But the Tom, Dick or Harriet living right alongside in our 8.5 million cluster might not have such resistance. The cold – let’s give it its real name, rhinovirus – hits them the way it could never hit us.

And down they go. Cough, sneeze, splutter, gasp.

Yeah, OK. This is where the Good Germs, Bad Germs philosophy comes in – that the body has the resources to fight back – just isolate it at home and let nature takes its course, with proper rest, food and hydration.

Except the dynamic doesn’t work like that when we’re living on top of each other. And not from the germ’s point of view either – we’re germs ourselves remember?

Crowd rules are different

Individually and separately that might make sense. But with 8.5 million of us so close together we can feel each other breathing, our germ-clouds interact way too fast for that.

In the 10 days it takes for the rhinovirus to incubate itself, we’ve passed it on maybe hundreds of times to others whose immune systems are not so acclimatised. And the closer we are, the faster it works.

Which is how a cold goes round a school so fast, your head spins. Well what do you expect, when the kids spend six hours a day together in the same classroom?

Of course we don’t think of all this – it sits at the back of our minds as a kind of brooding concern about hygiene. We do try to do something though – which is where the mop and bucket brigade come in at the end of the day, scrubbing and wiping everything down – and following up with a vacuum cleaner.

Under-responding if you think about it – and basically for surfaces only.

Because the kids might have gone – and their germ-clouds with them. But their bio-trace is still in the air. So are residual touches of the rhinovirus they have in them. Able to survive for weeks at a time and waiting to attach to new bodies when class resumes in the morning.

Yeah, it’s good to let things be natural and let them take their own course. Our own bacteria in balance with the rest of the world – what’s possibly wrong with that?

Bigger populations, bigger threats

But living on top of each other accelerates everything – multiplying its effect in a pressure cooker of fast-acting bio-clashes. Today rhinovirus, tomorrow Ebola.

And how do we deal naturally with that? By withdrawing and isolating, going into quarantine. Not wrong, but difficult to find space for with 8.5 million people on top of each other.

Since we can’t go round asking each bacteria if it’s good or bad for us, we have to clobber the lot. We already recognise this, which is why we’re attacking the place with detergent and bleach.

But if we’re going to do it properly, we’ve got to include the air too. Fish where the fish are – in this case, the micro-organisms so small we don’t even know that they’re there.

Which is why we keep banging the drum for ionised hydrogen peroxide – the one sure way to remove ALL viruses and bacteria totally from the room you’re treating.

Ionised – a different dynamic

And we mean IONISED hydrogen peroxide – not that vapoury stuff you might have experienced before – that double-strength fog that gets pumped in to oxidise germs, and then has to be dried out afterwards.

Remember your school magnetism? It’s the same effect, but multiplied several hundred times in the Hypersteriliser.

Ionising electrifies the hydrogen peroxide particles with the same negative charge, causing them to repel each other. Like a super-gas, actually a plasma – it spreads up and out, under and into, actively trying to get away from itself.

That same charge aggressively reaches out and grabs at viruses and bacteria which have the opposite polarity. Oxygen atoms are released that tear their cell structure to shreds. The charge dissipates – and all that’s left is oxygen and water.

No germs, nothing. Sterilised safe.

Safe, not sorry

OK, yeah. It’s overkill. Brute force tactics.

But with millions to protect, not just a handful, isn’t it better to shoot first and ask questions afterwards?

Because it’s not just you that needs protection. It’s the person next to you, and next to them, and next to them – some with stronger metabolisms, some with weaker – millions of times over.

With all germs gone, at least they stand a better chance.