Monthly Archives: June 2015

Wash your hands, yes – but dry them safely?

Girl with soapy hands
And for your next trick – how to get them dry safely

You’ve done the whole thing – soap and running water for two minutes, the backs of your hand too, and in between the fingers.

Phase One complete – exactly the way we’re inspired to by those hygiene experts at Northampton General Hospital.

So now your hands are dripping.

Clean, yes – but with residual germs contained in the water drops.

Which means Phase Two – removing the moisture AND the residual germs.

Where’s the drying doohickey?

If you’re at home, there’s probably a towel within easy reach – a fresh one, because you’re that kind of person.

That’s OK, as long as you only use the thing once. Wiping your hands gets rid of the moisture – and has a certain scraping action that gets a lot of the germs off.

But now they’re on the towel which is already moist and at room temperature. Perfect for germ reproduction, which they will certainly do, doubling in number every twenty minutes or so. Chuck it in the laundry and they’ll get sorted.

But put the towel back on the rail to be used again and you’re setting yourself up for re-contamination. You wash your hands again and a whole load of new germs arrive just when you think you’ve got them clean.

Uh, huh. You’ve gone backwards.

Re-germing

Better if you’re in a hotel of course. Fresh linen every day, so it’s use once and chuck. But have two showers, one in the evening and one next morning, both with the same towel and… you guessed it – you’ve re-germed yourself again.

How about elsewhere? Public places, shared washrooms, lines of loos and hand basins and – gasp – other people.

Keep your eyes open, what you’ll see will shock you. Like around half of everybody busily pushing through don’t even bother to wash their hands. Weirdly, some of them will even look like they’re going through the motions – actually standing at the basin – but not physically doing anything.

Why is this, people all in a rush? The place might be done up nice, but it’s hardly where you’ll want to linger. No plugs in the basins for a start – though that’s a good way of compelling you to use running water.

I don’t wanna queue

There certainly IS an issue with hand drying. If the place gets anywhere busy, like Saturday morning at a shopping mall, there’s ALWAYS a queue for the towel dispenser or air dryer.

Right there could be one reason people don’t wash – they see the queue and stump out of there in a late model huff. Another sub-group avoid the queue by wiping their hands on their clothes. Let’s hope neither of them are going to sit down and have a meal with their hands like that.

Could also be the drying method puts them off. Plus the six to ten steps across the floor to the drying thing with your hands dripping, before you can even start.

The yuck method

It’s dying a death now, but the old cloth roller towel dispenser is still around. You know the one – where you grab both edges of a section previously used by someone else to give yourself a fresh piece, pull down hard and then wipe.

Yes, it gets your hands dry – but there’s a good chance you’ve got somebody else’s germs in using it. And the somebody after you gets yours.

How about a paper towel dispenser?

Fiendishly difficult contraptions to operate when your hands are wet – jamming, bunching up, or refusing to dispense all together. You get your hands dry alright, but usually with a wodge the size of a football before you’ve finished – and requiring a dexterity level at least on par with those amazing technical ladies who solder miniature circuit boards.

Despite all this, paper towels are undoubtedly the safest. Use once and throw away – brilliant in principle.

The turbo-blaster

But technology’s not finished with you yet, because there’s also the air dryer. Either a weak buzzing machine that does nothing, or a force-feed jet blast from a supersonic wind tunnel. Yes, you’ll get you hands dry if you wait long enough – though it will auto shut-off at least five times before you do.

Uh, huh. Check the floor underneath. A lot of people like you dripped for several minutes before the drying became effective. And have you noticed how humid it always seems to get in there?

A lot of water drops are being blasted off into smaller germ-laden droplets and spreading throughout the room. You walk in to go for a sprinkle – and walk out with a dose of flu.

King of the dryers right now is undoubtedly the triple whammy air blade dryer. Pioneered by the Dyson people, who are all totally brilliant. But again, not designed for someone with dripping hands.

Check the floor of the compartment underneath where you put your hands in though – there’s usually a pool of water. Look at the walls alongside and you’ll see damp squidges radiating out – airborne germ clouds, just like the other jobs.

So what to do?

Hygiene magic

Lucky for all of us, there’s a guy called Joe Smith who has it all worked out. Shake your hands after washing, then dry them with a single sheet of folded paper. Check out his video on TED – if nothing else, his charisma will have you remembering how to get your hands dry safely for ever.

Joe’s mantra is SHAKE your hands to get rid of the drops – then FOLD the paper to give you enough absorbency to remove the moisture. Try it, it works – big time.

But there’s still the problem of acquiring your piece of paper in the first place. Joe has them all primed and ready. But you will have to battle with some kind of dispenser – and with wet hands as we’ve seen before, you really need to be Fukimoto-san, high-tech solder expert.

There is however, a way out. To reverse Joe’s mantra and do it backwards: first FOLD, then SHAKE.

Fold, as in have the single sheets pre-folded in a dispenser you can extricate them from with wet hands. NONE of the existing ones on the market allow you to do this with any ease.

Pre-folding

OK, so have a cup of coffee while you think about it – at Costa’s, where they seem to know a thing or two. Including – though they don’t know it – how to get your hands dry.

Because the paper napkin you take to your table is already pre-folded into four – and easily accessible, packed loose in an open-topped container along with the spoons, sugar, straws and stir-sticks for you to help yourself.

Picking up one of those without lifting a whole fistful is a breeze. So if your washroom had a box of those on the vanity slab beside each basin, it would be a doddle.

No more trudging to the dispenser or dryer, dripping on the floor. The FOLD is already done. You SHAKE your hands, keeping them in the basin so all the drops stay in the right place. Then you pick up a sheet and dry your hands. Clean, dry and safe, because all the germs go in the bin.

Back to Earth

So why all the rigmarole with expensive machines that don’t really work?

Search us.

Though the legend is not lost on us that when the Americans sent the astronauts into space, they spent millions developing a pen that would write in a vacuum, upside down if necessary, and on all surfaces.

The Russians gave their cosmonauts pencils.

Paper, scissors, rock – paper wins.

Feeling ick? Ever twigged it could be your fault?

Sick woman with medicine
Wrong again. Medicine is for afters – it’s washing hands before

Nice restaurant, was it?

Never been there before. Never had clam, chorizo & white bean stew before either.

Dangerous living, on-the-edge exotic. No wonder you’re feeling queasy. Ick de luxe – not nice.

Price of carelessness

Except, may we ask you a personal question?

OK, it was a whole evening out. You took the tube to town, had a few drinks at that stunning wine bar (they serve nuts, but it couldn’t have been them). Then a short bus ride and romantic stroll to this new Spanish place. You had a booking, they sat you down, you ordered and stuff arrived.

Perfect.

So when did you wash your hands?

Touchy, feely world

Hey, it’s a big city – 8 million people. Lots of them ride the tube too. Hell in the rush hour – strap-hanging, clutching the grab rails. Same on the buses. And every door handle in this magnificent burg – touching, grabbing all kinds of other things as well, just like you.

And most of them never washed their hands either. Out and about, doing stuff – never occurs to anyone, right? Oh, and yes – most people never wash their hands properly either, like 95% of us.

Plenty germs with 8 million people – and it only takes one.  More than half of us never wash our hands after going to the loo either.

Just a few cells should do it – maybe 20 or so. Microscopically smaller than the point of a pin. So tiny they could even fall THROUGH an unglazed plate. But that small, they’re so light that gravity has no effect, so they’re probably swirling round in the air.

No, we’re not going to suggest that you breathe them in, though you could.

They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere

Much more likely they’ll catch on your clothing or your skin – particularly your hands, because they’re always exposed and doing things. Touching doors, handbags, mobile, money, grab rails, menus, knife and fork – even food itself, ‘scuse fingers.

And your face more than anything else – which we all touch unconsciously 3,000 times a day. Especially the soft, moist tissue round the eyes, nose and mouth – the germs’ favourite way in to cause infection.

Heck, we even jam stuff in our mouths while we’re searching for something in our pockets. Keys, credit cards, plane tickets.

Unthinking, yeah? Never even remembering to ask “do you know where it’s been?”

So now it’s hours later and the cramps have started. Seriously ick. You’ve been to the loo twice and it’s all liquid. You’re shivering and your head is starting to pound. Something you ate, for sure – or so your head tells you.

Clams and chorizo, what were you thinking?

Not the chef’s fault

Except that wasn’t some greasy spoon, hole-in-the-wall place, it was a decent restaurant. Good professionals making an honest buck – not much chance the food was off. Nobody else came down with anything either, and the place was spotless.

Sure there are places with mice and cockroaches, but this wasn’t one of them – you’d know before you stepped in the door, that kind of carelessness gives itself away. And you’re fussy enough to walk out if it doesn’t feel right, so you stayed and enjoyed yourself. You know about being ick.

But unless you’re allergic to clams, your suspicions could be a little off. The likeliest cause is something transferred from your own hands – directly to the food, or from your face.

Out of sight, out of mind

Be honest, when was there a soap and water opportunity before you ate? Unless we deliberately make one, it’s not even on the radar for most of us, so don’t feel you’re the exception. It was a special moment. You took the chances we all take every single day – and this time you were unlucky.

So yes, it’s probably norovirus. But no, not from the food. From your own not-quite-so-fair hands and your own forgetfulness. Which is how most of us get ick.

Sure, not everything you touch can harm you. But just about everything DOES transfer to you. It’s on your palms and all over your fingers – too small to see and too impossible to tell whether it’s harmless or dangerous.

Which is why the hand washing thing is so vital. You can’t take a chance on good or bad, so you wash your hands to avoid the risk.

Spanish treats

Sorry you’re ick. But you enjoyed the food at the time, didn’t you? And Spanish people go crazy for fresh seafood, so you can imagine the care they take to get it right.

Let’s hope you remember next time, to avoid misadventure. If you like clams, you’ll freak for nécoras – those velvety crab done with white wine, sofrito and olive oil. Or the pulpo with olive oil, paprika and salt…

Mmm, what are you doing next weekend?

PM’s pandemic hit squad forgets prevention need

Skeptical woman
Pretty impressive – but a bit like bolting the stable door after the horse has scarpered

Nice one, Dave.

Yes, the next pandemic is going to be worse than Ebola, and probably some kind of flu-based virus.

MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is a good candidate – already running amok in South Korea after an opening zoonotic hop from camels in Saudi Arabia.

The plague is coming

But we can’t wash our hands of the fact that these hit squads medics won’t stop pandemic pandemonium – fantastic and state-of-the-art though they might be.

The clue is “wash hands” – and we’re none of us very good at it.Wash Hands Logo

But that’s exactly how any new virus is most likely to accelerate into a pandemic. Through sloppy hygiene and poor standards of personal cleanliness.

Direct contact is how Ebola did it – touching victims out of care and love – or contamination from their bodily fluids.

And yes, you’re right Prime Minister – if the next super-bogey is flu-based, it’s likely to be airborne. “Coughs and sneezes spread diseases” territory – spiralling out of the air around us, just waiting to be breathed in.

Sloppy hygiene

And yes, it’s going to be seriously bad – until we get our hand-washing act together. Plus defend our environment against airborne invaders.

Fact: 95% of us don’t wash our hands properly. Five seconds shaking them under the tap won’t stop any self-respecting coronavirus.

A lot of us are also super-yuckists – because Fact: 62% of men and 40% of women don’t wash their hands at all after going to the loo. (Tweet this)

Five minutes later, they might be eating. Or scribbling notes while they’re on the phone. The germs from their bum are on their food – or on the pen they’re chewing while they think. Usually they wind up with norovirus, the usual Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

But pandemic pandemonium is more serious, right?

Self-infecting

Which is why we’ll need the hit squads, Mr PM sir – these super-yuckists are sending a message direct to germ headquarters – INFECT ME NOW. When your super-virus actually hits, we’ll be going down like flies all over.

Because – Fact again – most of us touch our faces 3,000 times a day – most germs’ favourite way into the body, through the soft tissue openings of the eyes, nose and mouth.

Our own stupid carelessness, not so? Actually sitting up and asking for illness because we’re too lazy or forgetful to take the right precautions.

Because you watch, when the panic starts stampeding us, how many will there be running round with surgical facemasks, completely neglecting that our hands have traces of poo all over them? Suddenly, our Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease has notched itself up to a whole new level.

Cruise ship virus

Yup, Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease – a.k.a. norovirus.

That’s the one that keeps popping up on cruise ships – a bad place to have a virus going round. Lots of people living close together, sharing the same food and hygiene facilities, in direct contact with each other and breathing each other’s air.

No wonder it spreads like wild-fire.Rediscover Hygiene logo

Which is what our new super-virus is likely to do too, because that’s exactly how we live day-to-day, isn’t it? Particularly in the colder countries – indoors in the central heating, sharing the same space – at the office, wherever we eat, on buses and trains, in schools, sitting together watching a show.

All those unwashed hands, applauding together – what kind of chance do we have?

Double defence

Actually, better than we might think. Because though we might be at hazard all clustered together by our lifestyle, we can sterilise these communal spaces before we enter them. Ensuring all viruses and bacteria are gone before we set foot in the place.

Conventional cleaning and disinfecting though, is not going to crack it. We can rub and scrub all we like, treating surfaces is not good enough, we’re expecting an airborne virus, remember? And normal procedures do not touch the air, even though it’s 80% of our enclosed living space.

To do the whole lot, we need a Hypersteriliser – about the size of a small wheelie-bin – the one sure way to destroy all viruses and bacteria in any room space completely.

This clever gadget works by misting up the entire room with ionised hydrogen peroxide. This causes the mist molecules to repel each other – driving them as far away as possible, hard up against walls, ceiling, floor and everything in the room – and of course, deep into any cracks and crevices.

At the same time, those charged particles actively reach out and grab at viruses and bacteria, attracted by the same magnetic charge. On contact, oxygen atoms, hydroxyl radicals and even ozone is released, oxidising all germs to destruction – on surfaces; under, over and behind things; and everywhere throughout the air.

High-level hygiene saves us all

Together with careful and consistent hand-washing, these two defences should keep us safe from pretty well any harmful pathogens, the super-virus as well . Fewer of us to catch the bug – less of a pandemic – more like isolated outbreaks, a more controllable size for the PM’s hit squads to handle.

A real pandemic of course, would swamp them entirely. So it’s up to us to make sure we’re properly protected – prevention being better than cure. Thanks, Prime Minister, we’ll take it from here.

Yup, you guessed it – it’s wash-your-hands time.

MERS from camels: like bird flu meets norovirus

Camel girl
Not nice for animals, not nice for us – and it’s spreading

The word is “zoonotic”.

That’s a disease that jumps to us from animals.  Ebola is one, HIV is another. So is SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), remember that?

From birds, from monkeys, all kinds of living things.

None of them are nice.

Another coronavirus

And all of them have no cure when they first happen. People die, and the medics go into overdrive, looking for effective treatment.

Right now the alarm bells are ringing for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), a new coronavirus thought to have started with bats and somehow transferred to camels.

Since first encountered in 2012, most cases have been in the Arabian peninsula – the camel connection.

The panic now is that it’s suddenly jumped to South Korea.  Which is of course the problem with all modern illnesses. A few hours on a Boeing and they could wind up anywhere.

Two in one

MERS is particularly nasty – a virus with two sets of symptoms for the price of one.

Like most respiratory illnesses, it feels like flu – fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The unwanted bonus is like norovirus – nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

If complications set in, pneumonia and kidney failure follow. And of course, dehydration. 3 – 4 out of every 10 who catch it die – a mortality rate of one-third.

Not to be played with. So if ever there was a spur to tighten up personal hygiene, this is it. Even camels can succumb to lack of fluids.

A good stimulus is to remember that schoolboy chestnut, “beware the camel spits.”

MERS is catching

Right there is one of the ways that MERS transmits – though the air from someone coughing or sneezing. Droplets from any kind of body fluid are a real danger.

The other way would be cuddling up to a camel, or someone unlucky enough to have MERS.

And not even a cuddle – a handshake will do it, or even borrowing a pen to sign something.

Touch your mouth, nose or eyes after that – and most of us do it 3,000 times a day – and you could already be at risk.

Hidden threat

You see, you can’t tell someone has MERS when it starts. It takes around ten days for the symptoms to show themselves. (Tweet this) The downer is that it’s contagious all of that time.

During which you’ve caught the plane, done your sales meeting, enjoyed the celebratory banquet, flown home again – and been in time for your daughter’s stage debut in the school ballet. So how many people did you glad-hand in that little jaunt?

Wash Hands LogoPersonal hygiene

You got it – wash your hands at every opportunity. Before food, after the loo – and whenever you can after touching somebody or something from outside your usual circle of living.

The other defence is to safeguard your immediate environment.

Not the great outdoors of course, but the enclosed spaces we all share – lots of us all together, moving in the same space, using the same things, breathing the same air – at work, at school, at places where we eat and relax.

Sterilised surroundings

HypersteriliserBefore we get there, all viruses and bacteria that may be present are destroyed with a Hypersteriliser. A fine mist of hydrogen peroxide plasma penetrates everywhere and actively oxidises them to nothing. So when we walk in through the door, the place is sterile.

Two defences – against a two-faced virus with serious implications if we don’t keep watchful.

Get lost, MERS.

Not “how do you do?” But “good riddance”.

If it’s just a scratch, how come you’re in hospital?

Doctor in ICU
Forgetting to wash your hands
can cause a whole lot of trouble

A little scratch, only a paper cut. Typical office wound, like a pencil puncture or a stapler stab.

Nothing really.

Ordinarily no. You work it with your tongue and suck it better. All over, just a scratch.

Wrong.

Germs in ambush

There’s bacteria in your mouth – and bacteria on your skin. Bacteria lurking in the air all round you – and a frightening amount of bacteria on your desk.

You don’t know that of course, because you can’t see it.

So you carry on with the day pretty much as normal, remembering that paper cuts always hurt more than others – just the usual.

Except this time there’s swelling with it. Not just a scratch any more. There’s redness spreading up your hand. You feel hot and sweaty. Your head swims and you can feel the mother of all headaches on the way.

Escalating symptoms

Thankfully, someone dials 999.

They’re quick, six minutes in the most horrendous traffic.

But you’re not there. You’re upstairs in the loo, feeling like hell, shivering, fighting for breath, with your tummy squishing out the most terrible stuff non-stop. Your blood pressure is through the floor and your temperature through the roof.

All this from a tiny scratch?

The paramedics call it in, they have a fix on your condition. Their control agrees. They transport you – with siren and lights. Not even to A&E, straight to ICU. You’re on oxygen, drips and antibiotics.

It’s septic shock, a severe form of sepsis – when your body over-reacts to an infection and goes into meltdown. Your immune system is on the fritz, intent on destroying itself.

The antibiotics don’t work. Whatever the bug is that started this,  it’s immune to them – an increasing problem these days, when rescue drugs don’t work. But your medical team have seen sepsis before, they start you on a transfusion.

Impossible isn’t it? Five hours ago you were perfectly normal.

Sepsis – the unknown killer

Like Emma Straker, a beautiful 19-year old girl who had a crash infection just like you. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it, but they set up the UK Sepsis Trust in response – a charity to help victims and advise medical teams how to handle this killer illness.

It’s their emergency toolkit your team are using to treat you. Experts helping experts to save lives.

Two days later you feel like you. A little weak maybe, but well enough to go home.

And that’s when your boss tells you – never again. The whole office were with you every second of the way and they know. So you’ll see a few changes when you get back.

Hiking up hygiene

First thing is everyone reminding each other to wash their hands. Signs in the loo and little folded cards on everyone’s desk – a gentle reminder on your computer’s desktop too. Because they know, one little scratch can devastate your life, like the American lady with her cat.

The place looks cleaner too. More fresh, more sparkly. A hit team came in and blitzed the place, nailing all the germ-traps on desktops and keyboards, phones too – everywhere.

It gets blitzed every night as well, with a Hypersteriliser. When everyone goes home, it mists up the place with a germ-killing ionised gas plasma. Viruses, bacteria, all pathogens are destroyed. Every morning starts fresh and sterile.

They’ve also got a new first aid kit. They can’t stop paper cuts, but they can stop people bleeding all over the place. Those documents you were working on had to be reprinted.

So welcome back, champ – lucky you made it. Now don’t forget to tell everyone how important effective hygiene is.

Wash your hands or die, the dawning reality

Concerned doctor
No more playing games –
hands that aren’t washed can kill you

A life and death issue.

Really?

It’s a joke, right?

Unless you’re on the receiving end.

Because you use your hands for everything, not so? You’re pretty well stuck without them.

Hands unprotected from germs

Which means they touch everything – good and bad – that is in our lives. And we do things with them almost without thinking.

Take bad. Dog poo on the carpet. Who knows what kind of germs could be lurking in there? Get rid of it, fast, before anyone winds up in hospital.

Uh, huh. Major health alert – we all know the drill:

  • wear latex gloves or hands inside a plastic bag
  • use paper towel to pick up with
  • use second bag to bin it
  • get more paper towel or cloth to clean carpet (plus bleach or detergent)
  • discard everything as waste
  • wash your hands thoroughly afterwards

Zero priority

Now take good. A double-header cone from the ice cream van – with flake and hundreds and thousands.

Probably straight grab and eat, right? Down the hatch before the van even leaves the street. Quite safe after the dog poo was washed off.

Slurp, slobber, enjoy – that was good.

OK, but how about the rest of the day?

Work, shopping, lunch, playing with the kids – easy stuff, no need to wash hands.

Simples.

Hang on a minute, how about before lunch? Don’t you wash your hands first?

The loo calls

And surely there must be a pee break or two- especially at the office, awash in coffee to keep you hyped up and on the ball?

Because most people don’t, you know – wash their hands before eating. Or wash their hands after going to the loo. And the rest of us are just a flicker under the tap – five seconds, gone.

Wash your hands? Sorry, I meant too.

Yet the dog poo was a whole major mission – so why does it get more attention than our own?

Fact is, however you finagle it, it is impossible – repeat, IMPOSSIBLE – to go to the loo without getting stuff on your hands. (Tweet this)

Worse, every flush creates a micro-spray of water mixed with yuck – too fine to see, but able to spread twenty feet or more. Spray and wee, spray and poo, nothing nice for anyone.

It gets worse

Plus of course, it’s not just your poo you have to worry about.

That posh-looking person in the three-piece suit just came back from Asia. Luckily no norovirus on the plane, but there were typhoid cases in the departure city.

Typhoid in the poo mist, highly contagious. A serious bacterial infection.

And if you don’t wash your hands, you could just be unlucky. Screaming high temperature, diarrhoea like you can’t believe, and yes, your bowel can actually split open.

Two weeks on antibiotics minimum. You could die if it’s bad – or find you’re no longer playing with a full deck. Worse than death if that’s possible. And all from not washing hands.

Far fetched? Panic stirring?

Have you checked how the medical people are getting worried about antibiotic resistance? Antimicrobial resistance (the other name for it) is No 1 on the radar for everybody from the government. on down. It’s when antibiotics DON’T WORK ANY MORE.

That means back to the Dark Ages – even the Prime Minister says so. You get an infection, you’re on your own because the medicines can no longer control it.

Which means it’s not norovirus – the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease, or campylobacter (the raw chicken chucker-upper), or any of the usual suspects we have to worry about.

The real killers

Rediscover Hygiene logoIt’s the long-haul killers from way back – the heavyweight diseases that antibiotics were designed to eliminate: smallpox, measles, Spanish flu, bubonic plague, AIDS, typhus.

Catch any of those without medicine that works – and you’re a goner.

But all preventable – or very much a reduced risk – if you always wash your hands.

We shouldn’t have to remind ourselves, but we do – our lives are so rush-rush, do-it-now, that hand hygiene is always forgotten.

So yes, a life and death issue – and it only takes one lapse to trigger it.

Don’t let it be too late before it dawns on us.