Ebola won’t kill us, let’s rather do that ourselves

Infection fear
It’s ourselves we should worry about, we’re more dangerous than any germ

Here’s a harsh reality check for you.

If you die of Ebola, it’ll be your own doing.

You know it’s a deadly disease, you put yourself in the line of fire. The consequences are entirely yours.

Deliberate suicide

So what do they call that, self-inflicted death?

Suicide, right? You’ve committed suicide.

And it wasn’t Ebola that did it, it was you. By your own volition.

Ebola just does, what Ebola does. And exposing yourself to it goes one way. You knew that, before you started, but you did it anyway.

Makes you think about those volunteers who are out there fighting the disease, right? Médecins Sans Frontières , our own NHS people, British armed forces – and the selfless folk from a whole stack of other countries, doing their humanitarian best.

Heroes every one of them. Because they risk suicide to do what they do.

They know they could die. But they do what they do for the sake of others.

How careless can we be?

Not like the rest of us.

Every day we take stupid chances. We know they’re stupid, yet we take them anyway.

We’re not actually thinking suicide at the time, we’re just being lazy.

But those are the stakes, we’re playing with our lives. And we do it through sloppy hygiene.

Want an example? Look no further than a handshake. Not the how of it, the contempt of it.

“New research has revealed that just 38 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women wash their hands after visiting the lavatory.”

Disgusting, yes. But more than that, seriously stupid.

Because every single one of us knows the importance of washing hands after going to the loo. We know what happens if we don’t – that we could make ourselves seriously ill. We know it could put us in hospital.

We even know we could die from it.

Yet we carry on anyway, not thinking for a second that we just risked suicide.

Exactly the same as painting a target on your chest and walking onto a shooting range. Seriously, utterly stupid.

Unnecessary risk

Because you don’t see the Ebola mercy-workers taking chances like that – and they KNOW the chance they’re taking.

They’re ready with the meticulous scrub-up, the personal protective equipment donned under the watchful eye of a trained clinical observer: scrubs, overalls, apron, boots, double gloves, medical mask, respirator, goggles, surgical cap.

Then the UV tunnel, the chemical checks, everything. A whole careful code to be followed in scrupulous detail.

And still they can be unlucky. One unguarded moment, one second of diverted attention – and a needle-stick changes their lives.

Yet how many of us stare at the mirror in the loo – check the hair, the face, the way our clothes sit – and walk out without touching a tap?

A deliberate needle-stick moment, right there.

It was you!

Yes, deliberate.

Pleading forgetful is just making excuses. We’re just too lazy and we know it.

So how many of us actually do walk out of the loo – to come down with some medical nasty? Norovirus, diphtheria, MRSA, take your pick.

We don’t go looking for Ebola. But we sure as hell got what we deserve. (Tweet this)

Or worse, pass it on to somebody else by shaking hands, handing out coffee and biscuits, or simply handling the office phone.

Sloppy hygiene. Ugh.

So why aren’t more of us dead?

Is that a virus waiting for you in the waiting room?

Bored waiting
Yep, it’s a virus – and it’s got your name on it

Fancy place the local Doc has got.

Done up all nice in this old Edwardian house.

Six of them in partnership, some on-the-ball practice managers to run it –  even a dispensary, right there on the prem.

Impressive.

Too bad about the waiting rooms though.

Germs in waiting

Ten minutes in the one, and everybody gets norovirus. Walk into the other, and the sneeze hits in seconds.

Not really as bad as that, of course.

But that’s how it seems.

And if you think about it, why are you surprised?

A bunch of people all sitting, waiting – not all with aches and pains.

There’s the splutters and tummy cramps too.

Ten minutes, twenty. How long does it take?

Household hygiene, not good enough

Staring at each other in rows round the walls of this one-time ex-dining room. Carpet on the floor, drapes at the windows, radiator under the window – and that’s your lot.

Easy once-over with the Dyson when they close at 5.00. Wap, wap, with the dustcloth, job done. Exactly like public offices and waiting rooms all up and down the country.

Except there’s still stuff floating in the air. Swirling round when people come in. Settling and swirling, coming down on that old fireplace where they keep the NHS brochures. Attaching to the walls.

A grab-bag of common-or-garden cooking viruses, the usual suspects.

Rhinovirus, because it’s that time of the year. Norovirus, because the posh people in this practice do cruise ships and this year it’s Cancun with those exotic cantinas and the hot enchiladas.

You’re going to get it

A walk-in germ-factory, in other words. And a shock for the Docs that people think so.

But totally inevitable.

And totally fixable.

Because it’s the simplest thing in the world to wheel in a Hypersteriliser after the Dyson. (Tweet this)

Hit the button, shut the door, and 40 minutes later the place is sterile.

Both waiting rooms done before going home for tea.

No viruses, no bacteria – a germ threshold at total zero.

Stop a few coughs and tummy runs, that. Save the Docs time and ease up on dispensary staff too. What’s not to like?

Easy-peasy

All for around a tenner a pop – and the patients wind up among the healthiest in the country.

Worth a bob or two in goodwill, hey?

Can we book you in for next week?

Smitten by aliens from outer space

Spacewoman
Space, the final frontier: to boldly go where no germs can ever get you

It’s an affliction we’ve suffered from for nearly fifty years.

And enjoyed every second. Charmed and intrigued by an alien space being – that inscrutable and totally logical Vulcan known as Doctor Spock.

Boldly gone

Sadly, the charismatic Leonard Nimoy who played Spock in the 1960s TV series Star Trek, has passed on.

It is the end of a legend.

But our fascination and often dread for things alien is a lasting legacy – and the spirit of Spock will live on for aeons to come.

“Is there life out there?” is a question we already seem to have answered ourselves.

Out of which comes our continuing paranoia – “What if it comes here?”

It’s not just in sci-fi that it receives such focus.

Real eggheads in research centres all over the world worry about it in sci-fact too.

When the original Star Trek took to the airwaves  in 1966, space travel was still just throwing rockets up and watching them go round and round.

Three years later came Apollo 11 and two men walked on the moon.

Infection from space

Alien exposure!

What dangers did they risk? What contamination did they face?

And most paranoid of all, what extra-terrestrial hazards did they bring back?

They walked the moon’s surface, moon dust was on their clothing. The moon’s electro-magnetic influence infused their being.

More to the point, out of the six Apollo moon landings between 1969 and 1972, 2,415 samples of rock from the moon – almost a third of a ton – came back too.

And what defence do we have from possible alien life forms? (Tweet this) Embryo creatures trapped in lunar basalt, or deadly viruses set to take over our planet?

It is a recurring headache for scientists everywhere – how to avoid contamination of space with Earth-originated organisms.

And the other way around. How to prevent our own contamination.

Kinda difficult now that some 300,000 pieces of space junk larger than 1 cm are estimated to be in orbit up to 1,200 miles out – detritus from rocket stages, old satellites and other broken bits of nothing.

Science hoo-hah?

Not a bit of it.

Earth contamination

After the Apollo 12 mission, the camera from a previous Surveyor 3 probe was brought back to Earth and found to have Streptococcus mitis alive on its casing –  attributed by NASA to its not being sterilised on Earth prior to launch, two and a half years previously.

A technician sneezed on it.

NASA’s watchdog against any repeat is its Office of Planetary Protection, which applies muscle to measure, control and reduce spacecraft microbial contamination by law.

Sterilising spacecraft is difficult, given their construction from sensitive materials and the many fragile electronics systems involved. Repeated exposure to ultra violet light covers many stages of preparation, so does bombarding with gamma rays.

But Earth’s microbes have already proved themselves able to withstand extremes of temperature, radiation exposure, and even survive being in a vacuum.

Outer space? Been there, done that.

Currently, two methods are accepted for sterilising spacecraft – cooking with dry heat up to 233 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 hours – or exposure to hydrogen peroxide.

The hydrogen peroxide route is under close scrutiny – favoured for its effectiveness in eliminating all viruses and bacteria – but questioned for the moisture it introduces when deployed as a vapour, a major advantage over manual wipe methods.

Sterilising that works

That could be about to change – and remember, you read about it right here, first.

Already deployed throughout hospitals and public buildings is an automatic Hypersteriliser that ionises hydrogen peroxide into a dry mist that substantially outperforms the vapour method.

Ionising in the spray nozzle causes the hydrogen peroxide molecules  to become charged, dispersing widely and quickly as their like charges repel each other, forcing them apart.

The same charge attracts them to any surfaces or airborne particles, actively grabbing at viruses and bacteria which they destroy by thrusting oxygen atoms at them. In as little as an hour, any enclosed space and its contents becomes clinically sterile.

Good to know we have that kind of protection. Especially as we are still smitten.

As we learned from the movie Alien – in space, no one can hear you scream.

If nobody’s smoking, why are you coughing?

Cigarette woman
Passive germs are just as deadly as passive smoke

Cough, splutter, choke.

No doubt about it. You’ve got someone’s second-hand germs.

Well nobody smokes at work, right?

And nobody smokes at home. You haven’t been near a pub or bar – and nobody you know even thinks about it.

Non-smoker’s cough

So how else have you got this smoker’s-type cough that makes you feel so lousy?

Wakey, wakey.

It’s not just cigarette smoke that hangs in the air. And it’s not just stale tobacco that pongs up the place.

Germs can’t read that “No Smoking” sign – but if they could, they’d be laughing.

Because there’s billions and billions of germs all around us, all the time. Oh yes, there are, don’t kid yourself.

But we don’t think of them, do we? Out of sight, out of mind.

Invisible in the air

You can’t see cigarette smoke either, after the first few seconds. And yes, it’s deadly too – but those other germs you can’t see can bring on sickness and misery ten times worse.

Ten times worse than lung cancer?

Take your pick of cholera, typhoid, Ebola, malaria, yellow fever, or whatever.

Or just plain norovirus if you’re lucky – Delhi belly or equivalent. A few days and you’re over it.

But why are you still taking chances?

So far, you’ve escaped the ills of smoking – the cancer, the asthma, the COPD.

No smoke around you – and people respect the law.

But where’s the sign that says “No Germs”? “No Viruses”. “No Bacteria.” “Pathogens will be prosecuted?”

No wonder people go off sick – none of us are doing anything about it.

It is an offence to spread germs in these premises

We’ve gone all legal and outlawed smoke from enclosed spaces, but we’re still doing nothing about the rest.

Look no further than your own office space. How many of you are working in there -20? 30?

And how’s your office hygiene coping with the germs they bring in every day – on their clothes, on their shoes – carried in with their tummies, or breathed out from puffing up the stairs?

No, that nightly go-round with the vacuum cleaner, emptying the waste bins and quick wipe-down of all the desks isn’t going to crack it. In fact germs thrive on moist surfaces, so they quite possibly multiply.

Hazardous? You bet.

Try Googling it.

Average Desk Harbors 400 Times More Bacteria Than Average Toilet Seat.

Office workers are exposed to more germs from their phones and keyboards than toilet seats, scientists reveal.

Might as well call in sick before you start – you’re going to get it, whether you like it or not.

Well no, because our immune systems are accustomed to this kind of abuse. It’s only when we’re down that things happen to us. We over-work, over-eat,  have an accident, or get depressed.

The second the body goes out of balance, those germs are in there like a flash.

But of course, that’s if your office isn’t booby-trapped already. Sick building syndrome, legionnaire’s disease – they’re both demonstrations of environmental germs at work.

Boom! That’s you gone.

But only if you let it.

Seeing the light

Companies are starting to wise up to lifting hygiene levels at work. And, gasp, even some government departments.

The place gets cleaned every night – and then blitzed with a Hypersteriliser. One hour of exposure to hydrogen peroxide and the germ threshold drops to zero. (Tweet this)

There you go, germs gone, nary an infection anywhere.

No viruses or bacteria of any kind until the staff rock up tomorrow morning. Then they’re back in force, of course – on their clothes, on their shoes, you get the picture.

But at least the desks are sterile and safe to use. The place is neutral. Nothing lingers in the air or the heating system. The coffee machine and biscuit cupboard are free of all hazards – unless you scald yourself on a latte.

So if you’re going to catch a bug, at least it won’t be off your desk or the photocopier. Except Jones from Accounts had better watch herself, coughing all over everyone like that.

Needs a few days off, poor dear. Passive germs are active in the Underground.

The difference between clean and safe

Mum and baby hands
Most of the time, clean just isn’t enough

Chores done. Spic and span.

And the floor looks so good you could eat your breakfast off it.

Really?

Prepared to risk a tummy ache for it?

Beyond appearances

For all you know, that floor could be covered in germs. And how would you know? They’re so small you need a microscope to see them.

OK, soap and water does get rid of a lot of stuff . Dirt certainly, you can see that.

And yes, probably a whole stack of germs.

By making that floor – or anything else – clean, you have basically “sanitised” it.

If before you started there were a million germs to a square inch – harmful pathogens, viruses or bacteria – you have now pulled them down to 100,000, a reduction of 90%.

Assuming of course, that you have cleaned thoroughly – not just slopped with a mop and stopped for a coffee.

Personal hygiene

It’s the same with your hands.

A proper clean with soap and water for at least thirty seconds – or with alcohol gel if there’s no facilities – will get rid of 90% of germs.

Medics and science boffins call this a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 1. If you scrub for five minutes or so, like operating staff do, you get rid of 99% – a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 2.

But there’s a catch. All bacteria have the power to divide and multiply. One cell becomes two, two become four, four become sixteen – etcetera.

And since 10% of them are left, they’ll be at it immediately.

Warm, moist conditions accelerate this. So if whatever you’ve just cleaned isn’t dry, those germs will be racing to replace themselves. That 10% of germs can double in 20 minutes. In less than two hours, they could be back to full strength.

And germs like flu viruses can survive on your skin for 24 hours. Other bacteria can survive for weeks. (Tweet this)

Makes you think twice about the towel you use, doesn’t it? If it’s still damp – and it’s likely to be – the next person who comes along is going to pick up whatever you left. That’s why air blade dryers are so much safer – your hands get dry without leaving anything behind.

Thank goodness.

Because out of all the millions and millions of bacteria that might be around (there always are), it only takes 10 cells of something nasty like e.coli to make you very sick indeed.

This means war

So how about if you deliberately set out to kill germs? Use a disinfectant like Domestos or Dettol?

Depending on the strength and preparation of the stuff you’re using, you’ll reduce germ levels – the number of colony forming units of viruses or bacteria – by anything from 99.9% to 99.999%. That’s a Sterility Assurance Level from Log 3 to Log 5. (Just count the number of 9s).

Pretty good, but not really serious if infection is a problem – like when everyone’s come down with norovirus, or flu is spreading like wildfire.

Going the whole hog is to sterilise everything. To destroy all viruses and bacteria completely. Reduce those million germs you started with down to nothing – all non-pathogenic and pathogenic spores, fungi and viruses.

The science boys shake their heads at that, since it’s not always provable. The best they’re prepared to accept is reducing the million down to one, or 99.9999%. This puts us at a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6.

Making safe

Safe enough?

For sure. And it’s achievable in as little as twenty minutes by misting up the room with ionised hydrogen peroxide.

Ionising makes hydrogen peroxide particles become supercharged – acting far more powerfully than they would otherwise. They kill on contact without needing to saturate the atmosphere. The dry mist reaches everywhere, sterilising the air as well as all surfaces.

Well you don’t get flu by sniffing the table, do you?

And ionised hydrogen peroxide can be used pretty well anywhere in an enclosed space. You just roll in the electronic robot unit – it’s about the size of a small wheelie-bin – close all the doors and windows, hit the button and leave.

Result, a sterilised room with a germ threshold of zero. Your kid’s classroom, your office, your hotel room – anywhere you might be a risk.

Washed your hands?

You’re off to a good start.

How to take the heat off super-busy hospitals

Girl magician
Germ-nasteous Disappearium! Hydrogen peroxide zaps all pathogens immediately

We’re not all ill. There is no epidemic.

Yet every one of our hospitals is jammed packed with people anxiously seeking attention.

How come?

Hospital overload

Anyone would think we’re a bunch of fraidy-cat hypochondriacs.

Maybe we are.

But the people crowded into waiting rooms up and down the country are mostly there because there’s no place else to go.

  • Their GP won’t see them, he’s closed after-hours and they can’t get an appointment.
  • The 111 service can’t sort out the problem, so it’s referred them to A&E.
  • Their pharmacy is concerned about symptoms and has done the same thing.

Which puts a whole bunch of people in a queue, all waiting for one thing.

Diagnosis.

Well actually, for somebody to tell them what’s wrong, with a suggestion of how to fix it.

“Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”

And because they’re ordinary non-medical folk, half of them are convinced their condition is more serious than it is. There’s no family Doc with “There, there, it’s all right. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning”.

All they know is, they don’t feel well.

Which of course, can be caused by a whole slew of things.

But unless it’s an accident or an underlying condition, it’s probably germs.

Germs!

Somehow, they’ve come down with a bug.

Which nine times out of ten, should never have happened in the first place.

Sloppy hygiene. Hands not washed. Gunge from the underside of the sink.

Or just plain unlucky – a nasty stomach-heaving bug floating around at head height in the living room – which wafted in on the coat of the vicar who dropped in for tea , two days ago.

But bugs can be stopped.

DEAD. IN. THEIR. TRACKS.

Because it’s possible to sterilise every room in the country to hospital operating-room levels – no germs at all, anywhere. (Tweet this) Finished. Gone. A total germ desert.

And that’s germs in the air, germs on your clothes, germs on furniture, drapes, carpets, walls, ceilings, light fittings, everywhere – you name it. Total room sterility.

The only place germs can’t get clobbered is outside in the big outdoors. Or inside somebody who’s already got them. So if Hooray Harriet sneezes all over you, chances are you’re going to come down with it.

But not if you walk into a room where the germ threshold is zero.

And that can be any room in the house, your office, the restaurant in the High Street, and the council offices round the corner.

Safe as houses

How’s it done?

Good old Nineteenth Century hydrogen peroxide. The same stuff you can buy in the chemist for less than a quid a bottle. Grandma used it for disinfecting stuff and sterilising her teeth.

Maybe even put some of it on you when you grazed your knee – fizzing round the edges while it KILLED THE GERMS.

Yes, but this is hydrogen peroxide with a difference. Souped up with Twenty-First Century technology.

A nifty electronic machine about the size of a small wheelie-bin sprays an ultra-fine IONISED mist of it up into the air so it spreads everywhere throughout the room.

All the air space – under, over, behind and round the back of stuff – all surfaces, everywhere.

Good ol’ aitch-two-oh-two

Ionised means it’s active. It reaches out and grabs things – drawn to them by static charge. But harmless once it’s done its work.

Twenty minutes later, all germs are destroyed. Because hydrogen peroxide works by ripping them to pieces with oxygen atoms. Blown apart in millions of microscopic explosions.

All viruses, all bacteria. Even the dreaded Ebola, in the unlikely event that you’ve got it lurking.

And they can’t come back if they’re busted to bits.

Which is how we take the heat off hospitals.

We just don’t go there, because there’s no need.

We’re too busy being healthy.

As long as everywhere is treated with this stuff, we’re all OK.

We wish.

Because it takes a long time for us to learn.

Look how long it took before double glazing and central heating took centre-stage in our homes.

Ah well. But we do know some folks who are working on it.

Atishoo, atishoo, is the NHS falling down?

Girl serving hamburger
Even McDonalds can’t serve you as fast as this

It’s happening all over again.

Another scandal. Whistleblowers. People dying in thousands. Claims of negligence, malpractice and mismanagement.

Are we all more at risk than we know?

Unlikely.

Sheer scale

Because the NHS is no ordinary organisation.

Behind its doors, 1.3 million professionals handle over 1 million patients every 36 hours. (Tweet this)

On that kind of scale, problems and hiccups are inevitable.

Just think of the pressure. The clock is ticking, people need attention. Staff take short cuts, managers go for easy options, safety procedures get overlooked.

So now there’s another hoo-hah about failures, and patients “too scared” to complain.

Regrettable, yes. Unforgivable, certainly. In some cases, possibly criminal.

Except that for an organisation the size of the NHS, complaints are inevitable and actually essential.

Reality check

Take everybody’s pet wail and squawk  – A&E.

In just one year, it handles 22 million patients and up – most of them inside the official 4 hour waiting period.

That’s more than 2,500 an hour – or around 40 a minute – 365 days a year, 24/7.

How many fast food outlets can equal that?

Try ordering a double burger and chips at McDonalds and expecting them in 60 seconds – at the same time as 40 other seriously hungry dudes are yelling for theirs.

And McDonalds get complaints too. Every big organisation does.

They actually need them.

Complaints are necessary

And as a customer, it’s kinda like your duty to complain.

Because at that kind of turnover, how else can anyone know that something is wrong?

Everything is happening too fast for even eagle-eyed perfectionists to notice, so it’s up to each of us to press the buzzer when things glitch.

So if there’s moaning and yelling going on about the NHS, be thankful.

Something is getting attention and something will be done about it.

Sure, it’s scary that it involves doctors and hospitals and people’s lives.

At least it’s out in the open and not hushed up any more.

And how many big manufacturers have not tried to get away with that?

Nowadays even BMW and Toyota are not afraid to issue a total recall.

If there is a problem, it needs to be fixed.

Being open and honest about it restores confidence.

And not everything in the NHS is a train-smash like Mid Staffs.

Confidence

Going in to hospital for an op?

In 2014, compared to Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and USA, the NHS was rated as best by the Commonwealth Fund for efficiency, effective care, safe care, coordinated care, patient-centred care and cost-related problems.

Looks like you’re safe enough.

But make sure you shout like hell if you’re not.

You owe it to yourself.

How we stress ourselves into illness

Girl on railway line
Your own mind can be as deadly as any germs

You can’t always blame it on germs.

A lot of the time, the cause is our own sloppy hygiene.

Or, a bit more scary, we can also THINK ourselves ill.

Sounds weird, but we all know the truth of it.

Know that feeling before an interview when your body goes crazy?

Self hype

Upset tummy, unexpected shivers, apprehension and dread filling your head.

It’s not germs causing that.

It’s you.

Or more specifically, it’s you stressing yourself out.

Most of the time, it’s a one-off we get over quickly.

You’ve done the dentist, yes the root canal hurt, but now it’s over.

The relief is so strong, you get the munchies. And the heck with your sore mouth, that chicken and chorizo baguette is irresistible.

Dangerous company

But stress is not always one-off. And you mess with it at your peril.

A run of misfortune brought down normally fit Dave Dowdeswell with Type 2 diabetes. Grief, bad luck and business failure all at once – something had to give, and it was his body.

It could just as easily have been an ulcer, or cancer.

Imbalance in the body looks for whatever weakness it can find. Stress yourself out about something and there is always a price.

If you’re lucky, it’s momentary, like the nerves before an interview.

If it stays around long-term, you’re going to feel it more. Like there’s a car crash and somebody dear to you dies.

And there’s not a lot of defence against it, except attitude.

Part of the price we pay for the cocooned and sheltered lives we lead.

Oh yes, we’re softies. That’s why stress screws us up so much.

Hard times

Back in Victorian times, a death in the family was not unusual. Weaker diets, lower hygiene, illness was more inevitable – especially among children. Living with grief was more familiar. So was knowing how to handle it.

Most of us have never known anybody die. We’ve never seen a dead body, particularly of someone we love. Which is why we go to pieces when we do.

But life goes on.

And it will do so whether we stress or not.

So we have to teach ourselves to handle it.

Not to be heartless or uncaring. But to see reality for what it is, and come to terms with it.

Victorians went through denial, anger and acceptance, just like we do.

But they could live with it.

And so must we.

Diabetes, cancer, nervous breakdown – stress doesn’t care which it is. If we don’t get ourselves under control, it will choose for us anyway.

The mind has it

Which is where attitude comes in.

We think things change, and so do circumstances. They’re big, they’re small, dramatic, life-threatening.

Well actually no, they’re just things. Our perspective of them changes according to our attitude.

If you’re upbeat and positive, you can handle them. Beat your chest and throw your toys out of the cot, they will overwhelm and destroy you.

Stress can be a killer, but only if we let it. And we can all change it, just by attitude. (Tweet this)

Sure, there’s Xanax, Valium, Prozac – all mamma’s little helpers  when stress hits.

But think about it, why are you stressed?

If you’re honest, most of the time it’s all in the mind, right?

So the only way to rescue yourself is think yourself out of it.

Worth remembering, that. Remembering well.

When the end of the world happens, at least you have a lifeline.

Galloping lurgy – from germs that ride in the rain

Running from rain
You can run, but bacteria are everywhere

Rain is wet and wonderful, right?

Droppeth-ing upon the place beneath – reviving the plants, bringing us water to drink.

Good, pure, wonderful rain – the freshest water on the planet.

Or not.

Because of global warming, see. Full of acids and pollutants, like everything else we touch.

Another step towards certain doom.

A bit otherwise, that.

A drop of the real stuff

In Oz, rainwater runs off the roof into tanks.

For drinking when you run out of beer – to shower with, or top up the goldfish bowl. You wouldn’t use it if it wasn’t dinkum.

Yeah, sure – most of the time it’s clean and uncontaminated – a real life-giver.

Except something happens when it’s chucking it down.

That tangy smell you get from fresh rain?

Champagne aroma

You’re not imagining it, that’s the smell of earth riding up on microscopic bubbles of air, released from the impact of raindrops on the ground.

A bunch of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have actually filmed it – used a high-speed camera to show a fizz like champagne bubbles popping into the air.

Which means minute traces of whatever’s in the earth are thrown up too – minerals, dust, bacteria. Tiny specks of stuff that are so small they rise and swirl in the tiniest eddy.

No bigger than a micron (a millionth of a metre), they ride along with all the other things that breed by dispersal – dandelion seeds, for instance.

Which is how you could get unlucky and come down with e. coli, staphylococcus aureus or some other bug. Enough to give you a nasty tummy ache.

Or that scary Ebola virus we keep hearing about – only 200 nanometres across – barely a 100,000th of a micron. Small enough to blow anywhere.

All from a single drop on the hard sun-baked earth.

Splash, splatter, splat

It gets messier with plants.

Each hit is like a mortar, smashing and fragmenting. Flinging out anything that might sit on a leaf – sap, pesticides, fluid from fungal parasites – and of course, more bacteria.

Some of it hits and sprays, reaching up and around the plant to 18 inches or more.

But leaves are free-floating, resilient, twisting in the wind.

Incoming raindrops weigh them down, spring-loaded, to catapult up and away into the blue – spinning and shattering into tinier fragments.

Particles so small they could ride the wind for thousands of miles and still never settle – viruses, small bacteria, fumes, soot, oil vapour, tobacco smoke, the works.

OK, so you like splashing round in the rain.

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases – and now you know how they got there. (Tweet this)

Better be careful, like grandmother says.

It’s a lot more than a cold you could catch.

There’s cancer in all of us – but don’t let it kill you

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Happily ever after starts with you
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The clock is ticking.

Are you taking care – or taking chances?

Every second could change your life, depending on what you do with it.

And it’s much more of a life and death decision than most of us think.

In your own hands

Latest figures from Cancer Research UK reveal that half of us will get cancer at some stage of our lives. More and more of us are in the older age groups and more susceptible to wear and tear.

How much wear – and how much tear, depends on us of course.

We all know we should lead a healthy life – some of us better than others.

Razzling around and chasing the high spots has a price tag that none of us can avoid.

But while age is the biggest – and most unavoidable – risk, it’s not the cause of cancer.

Being out of balance is.

Losing it

Cancer happens when body cells begin to behave abnormally. A defect, a weakness, and we are in trouble.

Most of the time, damaged cells are flushed out – the body does it daily, part of the rough and tumble of living.

Because cells don’t go rogue by themselves.

An outside shove does it for them, usually triggered by our behaviour or lifestyle.

And the biggest shove of all is one we’re not aware of – always there, day by day, always pushing us.

Stress.

Yeah, right. As if that’s new.

Everybody has work stress, you just have to live with it.

And home stress? It goes with the territory.

Unavoidable stress levels that depend entirely at how good you are at coping with them.

Enter, digital stress

Except that these days, the stress levels we face are higher than ever before.

Fast-paced, results-driven modern living, what do you expect?

And it’s all us, just us.

Another recent study concludes that there is no link between cancer and using mobile phones. No link to electromagnetic fields – computers, powerlines, television.

Uh huh.

Maybe not physically.

But the pressures they unleash are unprecedented.

Full of angst and emotional strain, teenagers constantly stress about relationships. Every text, picture, Facebook post or Twitter tweet is potentially a full-scale breakdown.

Other media aren’t much better. Television, newspapers. Who among us is not appalled, shocked, sickened, or just plain scared of recent terrorist actions in our own cities – let alone the Middle East?

Stress, worry, uncertainty. They all throw the body out of kilter.

Sleepless nights, stomach upsets, headaches. Just the kind of shove that cancer needs.

So it’s not so much that we’re getting old at all.

Heartbreak, heart attack

A bust-up with a boyfriend is the end of the world. Handling it is impossible. Overwhelming grief, loss of appetite, listlessness, reduced will to live – is it surprising that a weakness occurs, the body reacts and damage is done?

Just the kind of damage that gives cancer a foothold – maybe not straight away, but inevitable in the future.

It’s not just cancer either.

Every moment of every day we’re surrounded by billions of viruses and bacteria – many of them inside our bodies.

First sign of weakness and they’re in too – and stressed people are careless, not paying full attention to the world around them.

Preoccupied or distracted, a cut or scrape can so easily happen. Even forgetting to wash hands properly is enough to do it. First sign of sloppy hygiene and infection is in, not wanting to let go.

Which is when the Doc reminds you that antibiotics don’t work as well as the used to – those rotten germs have developed an immunity.

Cancer, bugs, medicines that don’t work. What on earth can you do to survive?

Watch yourself all the time. Keep clean and healthy. Make sure your mind is right.

Sure, some folks have survived smoking and drinking to reach 104.

Long odds though, with plenty of losers along the way.

If you really want to get there yourself, stay balanced.

Don’t let the nasties grind you down.