The antibiotic price-tag – wash your hands, or land up in hospital

Rush to AandE
Better believe it, unwashed hands can kill you

Old wives’ tale. Rubbish. A little dirt never hurt anyone.

Your parents probably think that. And certainly their parents did.

Life was different back then. No mobiles. Only two stations on the telly. Central heating only for the rich. No 4x4s to take you to school.

Not like the old days

Yeah – and your parents’ parents’ parents had no hot water, no bathroom, only an outside loo. You did your business on the long drop in the freezing cold.

Washing your hands was a mission back then. Put the kettle on, fill the basin – just to wash your hands? Wipe them off with a damp cloth, stop wasting gas. Nobody ever got ill from it.

Yeah, right. They just died a lot earlier.

But you’ve got to admit, they were pretty hardy.

Their metabolisms were different is why. But not like they were Martians or we are aliens. Their bodies were exposed to wider environments – more outdoors, hands on, getting down and dirty. They grew up with it, their bacteria growing accustomed to it, it was the norm.

Are we aliens?

Wait a minute. Their BACTERIA?

Sure, sure. In those days they never knew it, but all human bodies are full of bacteria, whole colonies growing on our skin, in our mouths – and most especially, in our gut. More than 100 trillion of them, outnumbering our own human cells 10 to 1. A human microbiota that is more microbial than human – perhaps we ARE aliens after all.

OK, so these bacteria don’t just sit there. The body outsources all kinds of functions to them – digesting food and breaking out its nutrients, powering our immune systems, providing the muscle for tissue repair.

Yeah, there’s bad guys in there too – harmful pathogens that could bring us down. Small in numbers though, and smart enough to keep quiet. One false move and the good guys will either fight them or eat them.

Note that word smart.

Adapt and survive

Exactly what bacteria are. Because these remarkable creations are able to adapt and change to new conditions faster than anything else on the planet. Twenty minutes can breed a whole new generation – with new strengths, new skills, generating advanced enzymes to meet the new challenges.

Dirt in the system? They grew up with it, recognised it, know how to deal with it. Food not properly washed or cooked? No problem – they came from a long line of heroes with cast-iron stomachs.

Yeah, they knew upsets, what gut problems were really like. Where do you think names like Montezuma’s Revenge, traveller’s dysentery, Delhi belly, or back door sprint came from? They just manned up and ignored it, the stuff of Empire-building. “No guts, no glory” was how they lived.

Our own stomachs are more sensitive – not just from different lifestyles, the food we eat is no longer the same. Take norovirus – until 1968, it didn’t exist. Named after an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis at a school in Norwalk, Ohio,  it’s now every cruise ship operator’s nightmare.

The double-edged sword

Didn’t they eat the same food back then, same as 100 years earlier? Wasn’t beef, beef – and pork, pork? We’re not SO different.

Yeah, but what about antibiotics? Our food is NOT the same.

In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, but it took till 1942 to develop it, the first patient being treated for streptococcal septicaemia. By 1950, antibiotics were motoring big time – not in medicine, but in agriculture. To bulk up animals for market – beef, lamb, pork, chicken – all the popular meat types.

Today, half the antibiotics in use world-wide are in food production – 63,151 tons in 2010, to rise by 67% in 2030.

Half a century of industrial-scale usage means that traces of antibiotics are now in all of us – directly from the food we eat, and from the recycled waste. Even vegetarians will find them in their systems.

Use and abuse

It gets worse. Because antibiotics have been overused in medicine too. The miracle cure-all, patients clamour for it for everything from minor ailments up. By the time they’re 20, the average teenager might have been prescribed with antibiotics at least 10 times.

And have you any idea what antibiotics do to the human system?

Sure, they clobber harmful bugs – if they haven’t already become resistant (we’re coming to that).

And how do they do this?

By killing bacteria.

Er… But that means us, doesn’t it? Aren’t we 90% bacteria?

Boomitsdabomb!

Yes we are. So you can imagine the effect of antibiotics in the gut with over 100 trillion bacteria all round – like a thermo-nuclear bomb.

OK, so they take out the bad guys – clobber them to nothing. But a lot of innocent bacteria get hit too. Dead or impaired, no longer able to fulfil their vital roles. Collateral damage.

Want proof?

Ever been on antibiotics and you’ve had side effects?

Stomach cramps? Vomiting? Diarrhoea? Hello, clostridium difficile.

And that’s just for starters.

Oh sure, the immediate side effects are not too bad – the medics’ perspective of course, probably not yours.

But every treatment tears into your bacteria community a little more. The bounce-back is a little less each time. A little less, a little less – you and your children and your children’s children. Fifty years of antibiotic onslaught and our microbiota are not anywhere near the same.

All change

The balance has shifted – all of a sardine we face uphill we’ve never faced before, even a generation ago. Our bacteria is different, different breeds with different behaviour, our immune systems are different, our bodies are different.

Some blame it on diet, on lifestyle, on health and fitness levels – but messing with our bacterial balance is probably more the root cause than any other.

Where does our body balance start? As we’re starting to discover, in our gut. And we’re more sensitive than we were. After fifty years of bombardment, absolutely on a hair trigger.

Why suddenly obesity – a major chunk of the population overweight? Where from Type 2 diabetes, like it’s becoming an epidemic? We’ve messed around with our bacteria – and now we’re paying the price.

But bacteria adapt remember? They change to meet all challenges. Which is why they’re becoming resistant, mutating to cope with this continual onslaught.

Clostridium difficile? Staphylococcus aureus? They’re both impervious to antibiotics without getting clever – and you can bet they’ll find a way to get round being clever too, before too long.

Back to basics – soap and water

All of which comes back to washing your hands, believe it or not.

We’re not the same as we were – our systems are different, our defences are different and our resilience is different. We can’t take chances with random bacteria like our grandparents used to – see how quickly norovirus or something strikes as soon as our hygiene gets forgetful.

And what? If you get sick, you want to take antibiotics for it?

Whoops.

Already the docs are aware so many antibiotics don’t work. And the underlying damage has been done too. So if you do get ill, there ain’t no medicine for it, you’ve just got to take your chances.

Which means don’t get ill in the first place. None of us can afford to.

But there’s still one thing we can do – and it works.

Wash your hands.

Germs, germs, all over the place – why aren’t we ill?

Not feeling well
You can’t escape germs –
but you can get rid of them

Woh, scary headlines.

Enough to make you ill by themselves.

AVERAGE WORKER COMES INTO CONTACT WITH MORE THAN 10 MILLION DISEASE-CAUSING BACTERIA

SMARTPHONES AND TABLETS HARBOUR MORE GERMS THAN TOILET SEATS 

AVERAGE PERSON CARRIES OVER 10 MILLION BACTERIA ON THEIR HANDS

Seems wherever we turn, we’re swamped by germs.

On everything we touch. On everything we eat. Even inside us – like the 100 trillion bacteria living in our gut.

OK, so because there’s germs everywhere, we’re told to wash our hands. Doing it properly with plain soap and water, rinsed and towelled off gets rid of 99.9% of germs – good.

Except then we go and touch something – the infested screen on our smartphone or whatever – and the germs come back again. Why do we bother? And why aren’t they carting us off in an ambulance, right now?

Miracle immune system

Basically, because our bodies are the amazing thing they are.

What’s the bet, until the media started with all the Wash Your Hands hoo-hah, you never thought about it much, did you? You didn’t have a problem, life was pretty normal – and the idea that your desk might have more germs than a sewer never occurred to you.

Which is why, like so many of the rest of us, washing your hands keeps slipping off the radar. Your hands LOOK clean, you don’t get sick – where’s the fire?

Uh huh. But you ARE playing with matches.

The only thing between the everyday you and being rushed to A&E is your truly miraculous immune system.

Yes, the germs on your desk DO get on your hands. They ARE transferred to your mouth (the average person touches their face 3 to 5 times every minute).  And they DO wind up in your gut.

So where’s the norovirus? The e.coli? The staphylococcus aureus? The campylobacter? Or something really deadly, like multiple sclerosis, AIDS, or cancer?

Protective bacteria

Well, among the many astounding things that they do, this where the 100 trillion bacteria in your gut come in. Aside from digesting food types we can’t do on our own, feeding our brain, and protecting us from food poisoning – they boost our immune function by outcompeting harmful pathogens.

Which comes back to the washing your hands thing.

Yes, you do swallow some bugs when you eat, that’s inevitable. But not as many as you might if you didn’t wash your hands.

So when it comes to outcompeting the bad guys down in your stomach, the odds are better than they were.

That yummy burger was zero germs when it left the grill – too hot for any to survive. Picked up a mess of e.coli though – from the print button on the photocopier. Down the hatch without you knowing – potential tummy explosion, right there.

Except your own gut bacteria ganged up against it. Gave it the treatment – like a jewel thief in some long-ago legendary bazaar. Problem sorted – and you never felt a thing.

Always under threat

Thing is though, the body is always at risk. And always on alert for surprise attacks.

Most of the time you’re OK because your immune system knows your environment. The expected germs are compensated for and everything stays normal.

Normal, that is, for you.

Except you’re not always alone, are you? There’s other people at work, at school, in the shops – or sitting at the restaurant table beside you. And what’s normal for you is not necessarily normal for them.

They might give you a bug, you might give them one. An out-of-the-ordinary pathogen your gut bacteria is not ready for. Behaves different, too big, too small, too armour-plated against the usual enzymes they produce.

Plus, chances are likely you have an underlying condition of some kind. Most of us do. Some weakness your body hasn’t been concerned with until now. An infection as a child that left one of your kidneys weak. Slight asthma from the damp conditions in your workplace. An allergy to nuts or eggs that triggers anaphylactic shock.

And now there IS a problem. Your gut is in imbalance. You should’ve washed your hands, but who does going out to a restaurant? And you got unlucky, using the salad servers at the buffet. An unusual germ for you, transferred from your fingers to the breadstick.

Again, it shouldn’t be a problem – not if your immune system is fully up and working – if your gut bacteria are fully prepared for everything that’s coming.

Antibiotic problems

Trouble is, there’s a hiccup – and it’s caused by antibiotics.

Nothing to do with you mind, you know zip about it. But, like a lot of us, you enjoy a high proportion of meat and dairy in your diet. And out in cattle farms, antibiotics are used on an industrial scale – not to make animals healthy, but to fatten them up faster.

You like milk shakes, so your own gut bacteria have been hit by antibiotics. Built up over time from your tea, coffee, breakfast cereal – and steady progression from vanilla, to chocolate, to banana, to caramel flavours.

Result? Well, you might not have a fungal infection yet – a common antibiotic side effect – but you are out of balance and your system is down. Shoulda, woulda, coulda washed your hands, shouldn’t you? Your only protection, this time round.

It CAN be easier, though not everywhere is doing it yet.

But count on it, as winter crowds us more together – and as more and more antibiotics are given out for colds, flu and all kinds of things that we strongarm our doctors for but shouldn’t – non-medical germ control is going to be on the up.

Press-button germ rescue

Right now, in your workplace, your kid’s school, public places – even trains, planes and buses – it’s possible to mist up everywhere with super-fine hydrogen peroxide spray, and oxidise ALL germs to oblivion. And that means everywhere, in the air, on surfaces – even into cracks and crevices where ordinary scrub cleaning never reaches.

The machine that does it is a Hypersteriliser – looks like a kind of electronic wheelie-bin – and all it takes is around forty minutes, depending on room size. All germs gone, completely. Kind of reassuring when you read those headlines back again.

Your desk infested with nasties and all that stuff. Overnight, gone. Totally sterile, for you and your colleagues too.

What germs, where?

Whoops, Dame Sally – antibiotics don’t work, but clean hands aren’t good enough either

Doctor with antibiotics
OK, what are you going to do when the pills don’t work?

Yeah, yeah, yeah – we hear you.

The hand hygiene brigade are always banging on about it. Wash your hands, wash your hands.

And you, Dr Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer – you quite rightly push it further.

Wash your hands or die

Rediscover hygiene, you say. It’s a hidden truth that antibiotics don’t work any more. Superbugs have mutated to become resistant. All major surgery is under threat. It’s back to the Dark Ages – and in our only defence, if we don’t all remember to wash our hands, we’re going to die.

Dead right, Dame Sally (pun intended) – but nowhere near enough.

Clean hands might make a difference in the first microsecond – then we’re right back where we started.

Because it’s not just our hands we have to worry about. It’s everything around us.

Beyond medical

You see, as a high-powered doctor, Dame Sally is thinking in a medical sense.

Yes, she applies her principles to everyday life – to the way we behave, particularly after going to the loo. But her head is thinking hospitals and patients and operations and sterile surroundings.

Wash your hands. Yeah, well doctors and nurses do that already. It’s an ingrained way of life.

It’s the outsiders who don’t. The hospital visitors – and the great wide world beyond the front door.

And even if they did, it would never be enough. Because nothing out there is sterile.

Clean? Well, maybe.

An invisible truth

We judge clean by appearances – and all too often what we think is clean is actually loaded with germs. Looks are deceptive – which is probably why we never wash our hands enough. If they’re not visibly dirty, we reckon they’re OK.

Which means it’s an invisible truth that they’re not. Germs are so infinitesimally small, we have no idea that they’re there.

So if it’s not a sterilised area in a hospital, the very first object hands touch after washing will put billions of germs back again. Your phone, your car keys, money, the door handle to the coffee shop.

Give it five minutes and both hands will be back to normal – 10 million bacteria on each.

Wash our hands, Dame Sally? It can never be enough unless we wash our surroundings too. And not just wash for appearances – wash, scrub, disinfect, whatever, until the germs are gone.

And no, we don’t really do that at the moment. We just think we do.

Everyday germs

Take ordinary household washing up. And let’s refer here to another hygiene expert, Dr Lisa Ackerley. Millions of us do it, yet it’s a hazard highpoint of our lives – basically dipping our eating utensils into a germ soup, then spreading the germs evenly with a wiping-up cloth.

No, LOOKS clean isn’t clean – and certainly not safe from germs.

Nor is it either good enough to blitz the place with bleach and carbolic – scrubbing everything down to within an inch of its life.

Apart from the smell that could rip your head off, it never reaches right into all the dark corners. And most of the time we never remember to do UNDER surfaces or BEHIND them. Exactly the places that germs naturally gather.

It gets worse on your office desk. Because how often does that get done properly – if ever?

Nine times out of ten, a wipe-down from the night crew is the only lick and promise it ever gets. Promise of germs, that is. Because the same cloth gets used for every desk. Contact time is only seconds – and what kind of antibacterial stuff has it got on there anyway?

Looks clean, but isn’t.

Yet that’s where most of us eat lunch – with fingers that we THINK are clean – dropping crumbs, spilling sauces and getting our greasy paws over everything. Especially on that main germ transfer unit, the computer keyboard – press ENTER to guarantee collywobbles.

Yeah, no wonder we keep running to antibiotics. We take such chances with things we can’t see, a pill is our only rescue.

Kinda basic though, really – it’s way better to avoid germs in the first place.

But if washing hands isn’t enough – and even SAVAGE cleaning doesn’t crack it – what else can we do?

Especially when it’s not just surfaces that our hands touch, it’s the air around us too. Air is 80% of the space in any room, yet we never think of cleaning it. Heat it, yes. Cool it, yes. Filter it, yes. Even dehumidify it.

But apart from the HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters used in hospitals and aircraft, we never do anything to take the germs out. And there are more germs up there than anywhere else – at less than half the size of a molecule of oxygen, how could there not be?

More than hand washing

Yes, Dame Sally, we ARE washing our hands, we ARE being careful – but if our surroundings are always germ-covered, what can we do?

Yeah, well – get rid of the germs there too.

Not in the great outdoors of course – rain and wind would whip everything away in seconds – bringing new germs to replace the previous ones in the very same instant.

Ah, but we’re basically cave-dwellers, see. We huddle together in enclosed places – away from the wind and the rain, where the elements can’t get us.

And not the germs either, if we’re clever about it.

OK, this is the opposite end of looking after ourselves.

Hospital in reverse

Hospital is the back end – the last resort to rescue us from misadventure. Now we’re looking at the front end – not a doctor in sight, no antibiotics anywhere – a non-medical way of protecting ourselves from germs.

Easy, really. Room by room – enclosed space by enclosed space – we just get rid of them all.

Alright, fine. So what kills germs? And how do we take out the airborne ones – some kind of spray?

All kinds of things kill germs. Bleach, formaldehyde, ethanol, nitrous oxide – all pretty hazardous and not very safe – especially up in the air.

Way better is hydrogen peroxide – exactly like water, but with two oxygen atoms instead of one – H2O2. It’s even made by the body as a natural germ fighter – produced in the lungs, gut, and thyroid gland – and first responder to cuts and scratches, kicking in even before white blood cells arrive.

Same problem though, vaporised hydrogen peroxide has to be in a pretty strong solution (35%) to work in a spray. Hazardous to eyes, nose and throat – in molecule sizes too large to remain airborne for long. Very wet to use too, taking a long time to dry.

Ionised for effectiveness

The breakthrough is to use a weaker solution (6%) of hydrogen peroxide – allowing it to spread drier, finer and further – and ionising it on release to change its state from a gas to a plasma, an electrically charged super-vapour that disperses itself actively in all directions.

The charged plasma also releases further antimicrobials that reach out and destroy viruses and bacteria on the fly – hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone (a more voracious oxidiser than hydrogen peroxide), and ultraviolet.

Close all the windows and doors, get everybody out of Dodge, put the machine in the room (it’s called a Hypersteriliser), press the button – and leave.

Forty minutes later, the whole place is sterile, safe for everybody to come back – with not a virus or bacterium to be found anywhere. No germs, no threats, no need for antibiotics.

Now, Dame Sally – doesn’t that answer your concern?

Major infection threat from hospital visitors

Worried visitors
More harm than good – unless you use the gel

Unbelievable.

You’d think we’d know better.

All of us concerned friends and family, visiting sick relatives – and we’re helping to make them sicker.

We know they’re ill, right? That’s why they’re in hospital.

Where we know they’re vulnerable too.

It’s gonna be our fault

All those accident wounds and surgical cuts increase the risk of infection. Especially with so many antibiotic-resistant superbugs like MRSA on the rampage.

Right now ordinary operations like caesareans, chemotherapy, C-sections or biopsies are becoming impossible simply because the drugs don’t work any more.

On top of that there’s a whole witch-hunt going on that NHS hospitals are failing patients through an inadequate care.

And then we show up. Ordinary Tom, Dick and Harriet people – and probably the worst threat yet to catching germs in hospitals.

It’s easy to see why.

What sanitising station?

When we get to hospital, we go blundering in – hey, ho, here we go – what do you mean germs?

Yeah, well. If any doctors or nurses did that, they would get the chop. Busy like you can’t believe, but not one of them goes on duty without a good scrub-up.

They do it again between patients too – proper hot water, soap and brush, the full five-minute job. And with responsibilities pulling them every which way, they’re horrified if they ever get stampeded past it in the heat of the moment – but at least there’s sanitising gel stations everywhere.

Not like us.

There’s in-your-face sanitising stations everywhere you look in hospitals these days – but none of us seems to use them. Blind as a bat and full of ourselves, we never even know they’re there. With one or two exceptions of course – like grandma and grandad, worried about doing the right thing.

No, in we go – each trailing our bio-aura cloud of accompanying bacteria. Hands unwashed, untreated or anything. Straight off the street from whatever we were doing. Anything up to 10 million germs on each hand – dirt, food and faecal matter. Not a care in the world.

Contamination plus

Then it’s hugs, kisses, holding hands, refilling the water glass. If we knew any nurses did that without washing their hands, we’d kick up stink all the way to Westminster.

But not us, we’re a law unto ourselves – and most of us never wash our hands anyway.

So is it any wonder that patients stay in longer and get complications – that Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) are on the up?

There’s the professional medics taking flak for lapses in procedure and hygiene – when all the time we’re this bunch of uncaring bozos, infecting the place left, right and centre and not even knowing that we’re doing it.

Check it out, it’s a hospital. Most of the time always meticulous about hygiene, guarding against germs and keeping things clean. Yes, there are lapses – as always when people are rushed off their feet, doing multiple jobs at once. Too many patients, too many complications, most of them from germs which WE put there.

And then there’s us.

Careless too

Coats and scarves spread over the bed. Coughing and sneezing because it’s winter out there. Hands unwashed since breakfast or before – not even after the loo.

Filthy mitts (yes filthy because you can’t see germs, they’re too small) all over the high-touch areas that patients touch too – bedside cupboard, bed table, grab rails. Re-adjusting pillows that they’ll breathe into later, pulling up the blanket that their hands rest on, reading.

If matron had the slightest idea how we’re contaminating her patients, she sling us out on our ear.

She does of course, but she’s not allowed to. Misplaced courtesy and tolerance. Ideally, she would lock her patients away – restricted visitors – like in ICU. Not to penalise patients, but protect them from us – walking germ factories with our sloppy hygiene.

Think we’re kidding? Hospitals are where people are already down, resistance low from whatever their condition. Any hole, any incision, the slightest break in the skin and they’re vulnerable to infection.

And have they got holes. Wounds from surgery, tubes, pipes, wires into the body – even a simple drip puts a cannula on their wrist.

You can see it happening, can’t you. Tolerant Mum with her newborn second, letting her first-born explore all the tubes. Germs straight in, intravenously. Whoops – staphylococcus aureus, or a urinary infection. Another week in hospital. More headlines about inadequacy.

Unclean like the plague

Yeah, we’re bad. So bad we shouldn’t be allowed in.

Not without a facemask and hands gelled so they show up under UV light – just like getting into nightclubs. No stamp on your wrist, you can’t come in. No glow on your hands, stay out of the ward.

But it won’t happen, will it? We already don’t wash our hands and then wonder why we get gastro after eating a burger. The penny never drops.

And so we go on. Visitor monsters.

Do we have to become patients ourselves to learn about proper hygiene?

Revealed: biggest cause of hospital-acquired bugs

Girl pointing
Don’t blame the doctors and nurses, they’re at least trying

Humour us on this one.

Go to your local hospital – the biggest one preferably.

Smile at the reception people and go stand in the corridor just beyond.

Now watch.

Busy, isn’t it?

The world in a hurry

Lots of people in. Lots of people out. Medics, support workers, delivery people, visitors.

Depending on the time of day, more than 60 a minute.

And all in a rush. The only people taking their time are in wheelchairs or on crutches.

Rush, rush, rush.

Notice something else.

See those broad red stripes on the wall with the dispensers at chest level? Can’t really miss them, can you? Like a fire engine on wedding cake. Totally in your face.

That’s the sanitising station – a hygiene stop to treat hands with disinfecting alcohol gel. Three dispensers next to each other, on both sides of the corridor. Well, 60 people a minute, they need them.

Check how the professional people use the things. Brisk step up, squidge-squidge, step away to allow the next one, working the hands, fingers intertwined, making sure it gets everywhere – palms, backs, wrists – still at it as they move down the corridor.

In a rush of course, always on the go – but taking nearly two minutes to do the thing properly.

OK, so how about everybody else?

Here they come, rushing in to see Aunt Joey, Cousin Bob, sick Mummy, or brother Andrew.

Shouldn’t you..?

Hey, wait a minute, what are you doing..?

Stop!

Amazing, hey?

Invisible life-savers

Bright red stripe, all the way across the wall and the floor. Invisible.

Either that, or they’re colour-blind.

Nah! Not that many people – never. Fact is though, that they just don’t see it.

60 people a minute – and not all professionals. Ordinary blokes and blokesses. Straight through like there was nothing there. And all that gunk on their hands from the big wide world.

Dirt, grime, sauce from lunch, bits of poo from the last-minute dump before they came – because don’t argue, 62% of men and 40% of women NEVER wash their hands after going to the toilet.

Hang on, though. This is the main entrance – there’s other sanitising stations further inside. Go on! Follow up and see.

No-go at the lift lobby. No-go on the stairs. Not even stopping at the entrance to the ward. Straight through to Joey/Bob/Mummy/Andrew.

Ew!

Never mind this is a hospital, never mind there’s open wounds or anything.

Kiss-kiss, hug-hug – hands all over each other.

An open ticket for e.coli, salmonella, c. difficile, campylobacter, MRSA, colds, flu, norovirus – or anything else that’s on the go at the moment.

The elephant in the room, isn’t it? And you’ve just seen it for yourself. THE major cause of all kinds of infection in hospitals.

And that’s the reality.

Forget today’s paper with its shock horror headlines about the NHS. It’s not about staff inadequacies, failure of care, or lapse in procedures.

The real bad guys

It’s everyday visitors.

People straight in from outside without a hint of hygiene. Thoughtless, careless, couldn’t give a stuff.

Not until it’s them who’s in here after chopping off a finger. Them, with MRSA turning into runaway sepsis. Can’t find a doctor or nurse to take care of things? And who’s stupid fault is it there are so many people in here with complications in the first place?

The NHS takes a lot of flack because of people like that. Always hard-pressed, always in an emergency, swamped by people too full of themselves to have any consideration for others.

Sure they’ve got problems – you try running your hardest without a break for days on end and see how you score. So they don’t need more stupidity lucked on them by visitors.

Yeah, lots of finger-pointing by the holies – the service isn’t up to the job. But same like always, it’s one finger pointing forwards – and three fingers pointing back.

The biggest cause of hospital bugs? Carelessness by people like you and me.

OK, it’s not difficult – just go ahead and use the gel!

10 million germs on our fingertips – no wonder we get norovirus

Painted fingers
A little bit of soap – and it’s no, no, norovirus

It’s getting to that time of year again.

Cold outside, central heating on, everybody rugged up close.

Parked off with pizza and the TV – and then it starts. First the yuck feeling that maybe you overdid it.

Here it comes

Then the confirmation. Cramps, nausea – angst that you won’t make it to the loo.

Yeah, it’s back. The old winter vomiting bug and everybody’s favourite – norovirus.

Norovirus: a highly contagious group of related, single-stranded RNA (ribonucleic acid) viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis and food poisoning.

Hold that thought – highly contagious.

Not what we need to know – with a body that’s covered in germs all the time.

Yeah, covered. As in heavily colonised inside and out.

At any one time we might have 332,000 genetically distinct bacteria on just one hand – with another 332,000 on the other, not necessarily the same. That’s 332,000 different types – not individual microbes – all clustered in clumps of up to 10 million.

Watch out, they’re gonna get you

Makes you think when you chomp into that pizza.

10 million. Some of them benign, some of them necessary to be there. Some of them real nasties, like e.coli, salmonella, c. difficile, campylobacter, MRSA, colds, flu – and of course norovirus.

Did you wash your hands? Properly, that is – like get all 10 million of them off?

It only needs 10 particles of norovirus to make you ill – compared to 10,000 particles to give you flu. Six seconds under the tap isn’t going to crack it, especially without soap.

But that’s all most of us give it. IF we wash our hands at all – which 62% of men and 40% of women never do.

So yeah, face it – you’ve got germs on your hands, even if you washed them. And it only takes 10 to catch norovirus – one thousandth of one per cent of the bugs that are usually there.

Forget to wash your hands and it’s like trying to cross the M6 on a busy day – blindfolded.

Why winter?

OK, so why does this norovirus nightmare ramp up in winter?

The medics are still scratching their heads, but common sense says that’s when our resistance is down. With less of the summer feel-good, we’re not so blue-sky happy. Lower temperatures, out in the rain – depressing for your body and for your spirit.

Immunity is reduced – and norovirus is on the rampage.

Inevitable really. By choice we’re all indoors, together in groups wherever we are – at home, at work, at leisure. Often seriously crowded, like a night on the town, clubbing.

And not just with germs on our hands – with germs all over us too. It’s how we are every day. We’re even germs ourselves – our own human body cells outnumbered by bacteria more than 10 to 1.

So it’s not just our hands we have to get clean, it’s our whole living environment – as far as we can.

Because all the things around us are covered in germs too. Tables, chairs, knives, forks, phones – everything. And the air itself, the invisible 80% of the indoor spaces we live in – teeming with invisible microorganisms.

Germ protection force field

Right, so we wash our hands – but we can’t keep standing under a shower all day.

No, so how about we take the germs out of the enclosed spaces we need to occupy?

If there’s no germs in your office, you can’t catch a bug. The same with schools, hotel rooms, restaurants, supermarkets, cruise ships, you name it.

And how do you take the germs out like that?

With a Hypersteriliser.

It’s a bit pricey for home use, but perfect for businesses. Misting up the entire space with super-fine hydrogen peroxide, which grabs at all viruses and bacteria, oxidising them to oblivion.

Ionised too, so it reaches right in to cracks and crevices – all molecules repelling each other with the same electrical charge, forced apart trying to get away from themselves.

Forty minutes later, the place is sterile. Zero germs, no norovirus lurking, no nothing. Nothing to transfer to your hands either, so you’re safe.

Well, as safe as you can be with each of us trailing an invisible aura of microorganisms all the time – our own bio-signature of bacteria unique to us. Mostly benign, but able to affect others.

Sigh. You can’t win all the time. But if you’re living area is totally sterile, you can have a jolly good try.

About this blog

Back Off, Bacteria! is the blog of Hyper Hygiene Ltd, supplier of what we’re convinced is the most effective health protection system in the world. A fully mobile, all-automatic Hypersteriliser machine mists up workplaces with ionised hydrogen peroxide, spreading everywhere and eliminating all bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Hypersteriliser units are supplied to businesses and institutions across the UK, notably the haematology and other critical units at Salford Royal Hospital, Greater Manchester; Doncaster & Bassetlaw Hospital; South Warwickshire Hospital; Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital; and Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.

The Halo Hypersteriliser system achieves 6-log Sterility Assurance Level – 99.9999% of germs destroyed. It is the only EPA-registered dry mist fogging system – EPA No 84526-6. It is also EU Biocide Article 95 Compliant.

Low? How your gut feel could cost you your job

Problem girl
It’s not you, it’s the bacteria in your gut – telling you something’s wrong

You are what you eat” is the wisdom of our age.

Gotta eat healthy and well to keep the body in tune. A good, wholesome, organic diet – the flip side of “junk food kills“.

Well yeah, that’s if we are what we think we are.

Not who we think we are

But down in our gut, we’re more bacteria than human – trillions and trillions of them that outnumber our own cells more than 10 to 1. They digest our food for us and manufacture protein – plus a heck of a lot else besides.

Those same bacteria secrete dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) – the same chemicals used by our neurons to activate and transmit moods. Among them are gut-feels we already recognise, the uncertainties of anxiety and depression.

Our gut rules our brain.

Some of us tough it out and ignore our fears – plunging gung-ho into winning.

Yeah well – reflux, ulcers, gallstones, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome – do we really want to play those games? Get a little older, and it’s not winning to worry about – it’s surviving.

Others give in and let the blue funk take over. No kind of existence at all, that – hiding under the bed in case something says boo.

Which means, like everything else with our bodies, that somehow we have to keep a balance. Keep the bacteria in our gut happy to stay on even keel.

The other us

Except it’s not just our gut that’s colonised by bacteria. It’s everywhere throughout our metabolisms – and our outsides as well. A cloud of them surrounds us every waking moment, swirling and floating – interchanging with other people’s clouds. Reacting to surrounding bacteria as well.

And not just bacteria, but other microorganisms – viruses, fungi, protozoa, algae – the whole spectrum of the biosphere.

Which is where the balance bit gets tricky – not all of these microorganisms agree with each other, particularly our own body’s.

Mould for instance, gives off spores that affect our respiratory system – the cause of sneezing, runny nose, skin rashes and asthma attacks. We breathe the stuff in and our own bacteria reacts – the whole community, including down in the gut.

Bing! New chemicals are produced in response, signalling to the brain: it doesn’t feel good here, get out, get away – things will get bad if we stay.

Feel bad, think bad

And right there is a major cause of sick building syndrome – the body reacting negatively to its surroundings and affecting mood. Poor lighting, ventilation or acoustics, excessive vibration and electromagnetic radiation all contribute to the same feel.

Beyond the headaches, nausea and other symptoms, there is a psychological reaction – the brain responding to gut feel. Unease, dissatisfaction, worsening relationships, and anxiety kick in. All triggered by bacteria imbalance.

So, whoops.

It’s not always us that makes us feel the way we do. It’s the bacteria that inhabits 98% of us, putting the thoughts in our head.

OK, so you go for a burger – good junk comfort food.

As long as you don’t pig out on those things every day, everything should be hunky. Far from being bad for you, a McDouble one of the most nutritious foods you can eat – far cheaper and more satisfying than those good improving vegetables your conscience tells you to choose.

BUT – keep eating them exclusively and your bacteria will make you pay. And it won’t just be the physical things that get you into trouble.

Weight gain, flabby appearance and diabetes risk are nothing alongside the low esteem, lack of motivation, self-contempt and inertia that suddenly claim your life. Your mind is out of it and you have no control – not exactly the way to impress your boss and gain promotion.

A question of balance

Catch a germ that disagrees with you and the same thing happens. Flu, norovirus or e.coli can make you very ill – they also mess with your mind. You’re not yourself, you can’t think straight, you do things you can’t explain afterwards.

So it’s not just what you eat. It’s how you protect yourself from your surroundings too. How you keep your good bacteria in balance – safe from the harmful bacteria outside that are trying to take you over.

Step one is easy. Wash your hands, every chance you get. They touch everything – but like your own body is covered in microbes – so is everything else. Transferring germs from hands to face is our biggest source of infection. Soap up thick.

Step two is equally easy – press a button. The one on the machine that mists up the room around you when you leave for the night. Oxidising all viruses and bacteria with hydrogen peroxide – in the air – on, under, and behind all surfaces – making the whole place sterile.

The thing is called a Hypersteriliser – and your boss can get one any time it feels right to ramp up productivity, keep you and your colleagues healthy and happy, doing something more for your wellbeing than grapefruit juice and gym membership.

That’s more like it!

With no germs to challenge your bacteria, your body is in harmony. The feel-good factor takes over – you’re positive, alive, ready for anything – and it shows. All good, career-advancing qualities.

Yes, your job is safe.

There might even be a bonus in it too.

Why most “deep cleans” cannot get rid of germs

Exhausted cleaner
However hard you scrub, you’ll never get rid of the germs

It’s not for want of trying.

Bleach so strong it can take your head off. Scrubbing till fingers ache.

Surfaces spotless, floors gleaming – and STILL infections break through.

All the nasties – norovirus, MRSA, flu. Outbreak after outbreak, all in the same place.

Why?

Because the job’s not done until it’s done is why.

80% not good enough

Despite all the effort, conventional wipe-clean methods are just not good enough. Viruses and bacteria survive however hard cleaning teams try. In corners, cracks and crevices where surfaces meet. In the grooves between tiles. Clinging to coils of wire and tubing. Under cupboards, behind consoles, on top of lockers. On walls and ceilings.

And of course, all through the biggest part of any room – the air.

It’s pretty well 80% of any room – the space we move around in. We don’t see anything in it, so we assume nothing is there.

Not like the exhaust pipe of a car. We know that air is dirty – smoky, unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. It’s bad and we can smell it.

But there’s nothing in this room that’s just been cleaned – just the lingering smell of bleach. It’s clean, right? There’s nothing there.

Deep cleans only touch the surface

Actually, we’d be dead if there was. No oxygen for us to breathe.

No anything else either. No carbon dioxide for plants to breathe. No nitrogen to enrich the soil. No water vapour to keep our skin hydrated. None of those tantalising particles given off by fresh coffee, sizzling bacon, or newly baked bread.

No dust, no lint, no plant spores – hang on a minute! There’s a whole plethora of stuff up there, and we don’t see any of it – all solids suspended in the air.

We don’t see germs either – and they’re up there too. Smaller than pretty well any of them. Like a single particle of oxygen is 0.0005 microns across – half of one-millionth of a millimetre.

Uh huh. And a single cell of rhinovirus, otherwise known as the common cold, is a mere twenty-fifth of that – 20 nanometres or 0.00002 millimetres. Like most germs, small enough and light enough to ride the air without ever coming down. Unaffected by gravity because the other particles surrounding it are denser than it is.

So yeah. The AIR is full of germs, all the time. Good bacteria, bad bacteria – and viruses like you can’t believe. Billions and billions of them.

Which is why your average deep clean doesn’t stand a snowball’s against them.

Sure, the surfaces get cleaned – but that leaves 80% of the room space completely UNTOUCHED!

It’s in the air

So to make a room safe means to clobber viruses and bacteria in the air – as well as on all surfaces. Plus get into all the nooks and crannies that never get attention – the dark underworld of repeat infections.

Which means whatever is doing the cleaning has to have an airborne delivery system.

Exactly why, only back in 2010, that the American Bresslergroup was commissioned to design brand new technology into the award-winning Hypersteriliser – known Stateside as the Halo Fogger.

Hoo boy, now we’re cooking with gas.

Ionised hydrogen peroxide gas plasma to be exact.

Dispersed by an electrically-charged, non-toxic 6% solution of ultra-fine spray mist that attracts germs like magnets – actively grabbing them out of the air and oxidising them to nothing on contact.

That same charge also forces the hydrogen peroxide molecules to try and escape each other – burying deep into cracks and crevices where cleaning sponges can never reach – spreading out hard against walls, ceilings and floors – permeating everywhere.

One button is all you press to start it. Forty minutes is all it takes for the average room to clear. Zero germ threshold to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6 – completely sterile, all viruses and bacteria gone.

All that’s left is oxygen and water – in such small quantities it evaporates before settling – safe for keyboards, cables and electrical connections. Oh, and a superfine layer of colloidal silver – for a protective germ-resistant barrier that lasts up to seven days or more.

A new efficiency

Sure hydrogen peroxide fogging is not new – but not to this level of efficiency.

It’s the ionising that does it – allowing a milder, safer 6% solution to be used – which reaches further, disperses better, and performs better too. The hydrogen peroxide changes state from a gas to a plasma, releasing further antipathogenic performers such as hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone and ultraviolet.

Other systems are more clunky, using the older vaporised hydrogen peroxide spray – stronger and more hazardous at a 35% solution – necessary to disperse the slower-acting, heavier vapour – which also shortens contact time in the air – and needs a drying period to clear wet surfaces afterwards.

Is it worth it?

Sterilising the whole room, that is.

Well if a room starts sterile, there’s no germs for anyone to catch – only from each other with whatever they bring in on their skin and clothing. If there’s a bug going round, chances are good everyone is protected.

Big bucks cost – from a millionth of a millimetre across

But think of the money – especially if conventional deep cleans fail to stop repeat contamination. And especially if they affect a major investment and revenue-earning machine like a cruise liner.

In 2002, Holland America Line’s Amsterdam was forced to abort four consecutive cruises to norovirus, even with deep cleaning after every voyage. And with fares averaging £1,000 a hit for 1,380 passengers per voyage, that’s £1.38 million in refunds every trip.

Plus how much does it cost to take a cruise liner completely out of service and hand clean the whole ship AGAIN – every item down to TV remotes, bibles – and all the poker chips and currency in the casino?

Deep pockets these cruise lines must have – as the owners of another liner – the Star Princess – are finding out. This week she docked in Vancouver with a second outbreak of norovirus in six months. Big bucks, bad publicity – and how many cancellations?

If you’re going to deep clean, at least make sure it’s a process you can afford.

Monthly sick costs £2,220 Sickness avoidance £420

Flaunting cash
You can’t see germs – but you can see the savings when they’re gone

Wow, do we ever pay for a sickie.

131 million days are lost every year because we’re down with something – according to the Office of National Statistics – around 4.4 days per worker at a cost of £29 billion.

Not good if you’re a manager, or running your own business.

Not good for employees either.

Losing hand over fist

Staff off sick means having to double up. Overtime, yes – but not because you wanted it. Working with temps who are not up to speed. Less time to do your own stuff. More stress, stretched patience, being under pressure.

And of course, less to divvy out when it comes to bonus time.

4.4 days – almost a week.

But folks at the Sage Group reckon it’s far higher – and £100 billion too. More like 19 days for ill health, 23 for stress, depression and anxiety. And as the world’s third largest accounting software operation, they ought to know – most bean-counters want it accurate, down to the penny.

Which gets a little hairy when you do the sums.

What if…

Just to grab a perspective, say we’re a company of 20 people in an office, averaging between us around £20,000 a year each. Some kind of sales outfit, or maybe a call centre.

Allow 16 days each for colds, flu, tummy bugs and the usual suspects – and we’re looking at a monthly hit to the company’s bottom line of about £2,220 – more than the take-home for any of us. A deadweight overhead nobody ever sees.

Well, yeah.

Except it’s mostly preventable.

Because – not looking at injuries or long-term physical problems – all those ailments come from germs. Viruses or bacteria we either breathe in or eat – which trigger coughs, sniffles, headaches, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

And all of which we pass easily from one to another- cooped up together in our open plan office the way we are. Breathing the same air, sharing the same things, touching the same objects and each other, eating at our desks and running the same risks.

Look closely and you’ll see why. Greasy finger marks on keyboards, phones and light switches – dust bunnies behind all those plasma screens. 10 million bacteria on the average desk that we’re working at with out bare hands.

And still sitting there tomorrow, because the average wipe-down doesn’t actually cover all those high touch surfaces. Vacuum the floors, empty the bins, wipe the desks – and that’s yer lot. No wonder sickie costs are £2,220 a month!

No doctor necessary

Now here’s the preventable bit.

To take down all the viruses and bacteria everywhere in the room – dark corners, cracks and crevices too – as well as the air, that 80% of moving-around space that never gets touched – annihilating germs completely.

All it takes is to press one button on a smart-looking machine – about the size of a small wheelie-bin. The Hypersteriliser.

Nifty device, this.

It fills the air with an ultra-fine mist of hydrogen peroxide – ionised, so it actively spreads away from itself. Reaching up and out – hard up against ceilings and walls, onto every surface. Behind, under and on top of filing cabinets, server consoles, copy machines, the works.

The charged molecules reach out and grab all germs on the fly, oxidising them to oblivion.

Next morning, the place is sterile. No viruses, no bacteria, no illnesses to bring anybody down – no pathogens to pass on to each other either.

And it’s like that every morning – day in, day out.

Safe, secure. With machine and misting solution on lease at just £420 a month – less than a quarter of sick leave costs. Costs that no longer have to be met. And work pressure nobody has to keep living with.

Of course, everything could stay the way it is and we all put up with it – cough, sniffle.

Two plus two equals..?

But, let’s see – that’s £2,220 less the £420 lease cost…

What business wouldn’t want to save £1,800 a month – AND have everybody well and smiling at their desks, all up to full horsepower?

Money talks, germs don’t. And the difference is one heck of a packet.

People always off sick: the cost of dirty fingers

Accusing girl
Don’t kid yourself – most of us have 10 millon bacteria on our hands every day

Food poisoning, flu – ever thought how it starts?

Food poisoning, for instance. Stomach bugs, cramps de luxe – where from does that happen?

Well, for starters, you’ve got to eat something, right?

Put something in your mouth.

And either it’s OK, or not OK – that’s how it happens.

We are what we eat – bugs too

Yes, obvious.

But no joke when you’ve got it. The galloping lurgy.

No joke for anyone else either. Because chances are, they’ll get it too. The thing spreads – and spreads.

Empty desks at work. Empty desks at school.

All those jobs stalled, falling through the slats. Staff doubling up to handle the slack. Service quality sagging. Business confidence taking a dip. One heck of a price tag.

All from something you put in your mouth.

Yeah, but how?

Our sloppy hygiene

If you say “knife and fork”, you MIGHT be OK.

Nobody actually touches the food – straight from plate to mouth. No risk, unless the food was off – but you’d probably taste that, and spit it out anyway.

Uh huh.

But what if you scoff it with your fingers?

Pizza, burger, sarnie, chips – we’re always on the go, right? Workaholic us.

So nine times out of ten, we’re gobbling fast food at our desks – probably still working too.

Job security maybe – or too much in our in-trays. Pressure-pressure, never stop. We gotta make commission – or just rack up enough hours so we can go home on time.

Which is how come there’s gunk all over the keyboard. The phone too, desk drawer handles and the files inside. Adding to the gunk already there from yesterday – and the day before. Yeah, the cleaning crew does the desk, but never the other stuff – get sued for breakages if they did.

Finger-licking risky

And where there’s gunk, there’s germs. Visible smears, invisible germs. Norovirus, salmonella, e.coli – take your pick. Straight to your fingers, transferred to your food – er, suddenly you don’t feel so good.

On your fingers, yeah.

Touching the same things that everyone else touches – light switches, door handles – er, and what about going to the loo?

Don’t believe us? Hey, we’re all in the fast lane, go, go, go. We ALL have better things to do. No less a personality than Jennifer Lawrence, urban heroine of the Hunger Games movies, admits she skips washing her hands after going to the loo.

Hungry, but not that hungry

Poo from the loo – cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea – you know how it goes.

And all the rest. Shaking hands with colleagues, customers, clients. Fingers everywhere, touching stuff. Faces too. Infection, infection. 3,000 bacteria per square inch on your desk and no wonder. On everybody else’s desk too.

Translation – if you’ve already got it, they’re gonna get it too. What goes around, comes around.

Everybody off sick – again.

Same with flu – or whatever this year’s nasty is. Transfers exactly the same way – keyboards, door knobs, lift buttons.

Because – be honest – do you always wash your hands after you blow your nose? And what happens to the tissues? All over your desk? Overflowing out of your waste paper basket?

All in the air

Plus, don’t forget, that stuff is airborne too. Coughs and sneezes spread diseases.

Actually, EVERYTHING spreads in the air. At only 2 microns across for the average rhinovirus cell, most germs are so tiny and light, they ride the air permanently – wafting, swirling, riding the currents. Just one of us walking in the door can spread them across the whole room.

Add a sneeze on top – and the whole place is infected.

Got your calculator handy?

How many hours lost is that? At how much per hour? Even supermarket casuals get the minimum £6.50 per hour. And how about lost business? Sales not closed? Follow-ups not pursued?

How about relief staff, to keep things going? The millions and millions of pounds of orders down the tubes. Hold onto your hats, that’s a cost to the country of £29 billion a year.

Which is why savvy bosses are gearing up with Hypersterilisers. Slashing the sick bill to peanuts by reducing workplace germs to zero every night.

OK, so some staff are carrying an infection or two – but first thing every morning, the whole place is sterile. No viruses, no bacteria, nothing.

Press one button and a fine spray of ionised hydrogen peroxide mists up the entire room, oxidising ALL germs to oblivion in around forty minutes. No colds to catch, no tummy bugs to suffer. The meter is not racking up all those sickness costs any more.

Now if you can just get some soap on those fingers…