Any job carries stress which can impact your health – you know your worries better than anyone.
But what about the physical place? Where you’re hard at it eight hours and more every day?
Environment can make a big difference way beyond pleasant surroundings and snappy décor.
Everything around you
For instance, your workplace building itself exerts a major influence. Some are prone to vibrations from passing traffic, or the Underground running below the basement. Some are always cold and damp, however high the heating is set – a source of mould and coughs and colds, without you even knowing.
And how about the heating? The HVAC system might be a wonderful thing – but could also cause you grief. Big office systems need big tanks of water – massive things, probably on the roof or somewhere out of the way, quiet and undisturbed.
Sometimes too quiet. Warm, stationary water is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria – most of the time harmless. But there’s nothing harmless about legionella pneumophila – a bacterium that spreads through fine water droplets in the ventilation ducting – another outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease, a kind of pneumonia-like infection you really don’t want in your workplace – it could put you out of action for days or even weeks.
In the air
And how about your workplace air? The quality of it can have a huge effect on your wellbeing. Does it smell fresh? Or tired and dank, like clanking machinery? Plus of course, the old warm/cold issue – the girls want it warm, the boys want it super-cold. (Just get them to take their tie off, it’s acceptable these days – that’ll drop their body temperature 10 degrees in minutes.)
Yes, the air. We never think about that, do we? Empty space, not on the radar. Not like desks and chairs and phones and computers and things.
It’s there, just the same – probably even 80% of your workplace space.
And it’s not empty.
Nor is it just your subtle Thierry Mugler Angel and the wafting fish and chips of that nerdy guy on the far side where all the filing cabinets are.
For a start, there’s the oxygen we breathe – and the nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and other stuff that makes up the natural air around us.
And the imperfections, of course. The tiny motes of dust and other microscopic nothings.
Not to mention the germs.
Which means if you’re unlucky enough to come down with anything, the most likely is colleague-itis. A bug you catch from your pals.
You’d better believe it. Aside from the continual germs lurking on your desk and other surfaces throughout the office – 10 million on average, so don’t feel so alarmed – every single one of us pulls around our own aura of personal bacteria, body detritus and skin particles – a constant microbial interchange of billions and billions we’re never even aware of.
All of which we breathe, swallow, get on our skin – most of the time held in check by our immune systems. But sometimes when we’re down – not enough sleep, over-exertion or simply depressed – the bugs see a chance and take it.
And so it begins, another malicious bug in the air-con that will try to attack everyone. Will probably succeed too – because very few people are 100% medically fit. Most of us have an underlying condition of some kind – prone to headaches, a chest complaint, IBS, low blood pressure – all weaknesses for a bug to explore and suddenly you’re down with flu, or norovirus, or salmonella, or any one of a hundred nasties.
Safe, sterile and fresh
But you don’t have to be.
Overnight, the whole office – air included – can be made safe, sterile and completely free from germs at the touch of a button.
A machine called a Hypersteriliser mists the place up with an ultra-fine spray of Ionised hydrogen peroxide – the very same stuff your own body produces to fight germs . A potent antimicrobial, it spreads everywhere, across surfaces and through the air, oxidising viruses and bacteria as it does so, until 99.9999% of them are gone.
How can you tell?
No smells (a sign of active bacteria), your workplace feels fresh. And if there is any mould anywhere – round the window frame where the rain always leaks, for instance – it’s no longer black and horrible, but greyed out and harmless, easy to brush away. Your workplace is safe.
OK, it doesn’t sort out all your workplace problems, but it does sort out germs.
Which makes handling issues after you’ve got rid of them much more of a doddle.
Antibiotics might seem like lifesavers now, but when all superbugs can resist them, they’ll be as useless as sugar pills.
Which is exactly how things are going, right now. Our two major antibiotics of last resort, colistin and carbapenem have already been compromised – it’s only a matter of time before antimicrobial resistance is total.
No more protection against infection. No more surgical procedures like heart transplants, hip replacements or caesarean sections. Get unlucky and you’ll die from a paper cut. Medics are uneasy about their vote.
So if antibiotics are already so far on the skids, why aren’t we already abandoning them for something better? Bacteriophages already look like a possibility.
Food to be fearful of
It’s even worse in agriculture. Where most of the 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics the world produces every year gets pumped.
The discovery that antibiotics boost livestock growth up to four times bigger and faster has revolutionised farming in the last fifty years. Massive factory farms now produce super chickens and super cows. From egg to full-grown roasting chicken in 6 weeks. From calf to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak in 16 months instead of four years.
During that time, the world hasn’t got any bigger. Still the same amount of land to produce food on – the same rainfall, the same basic climate.
Population though has exploded three times over. From 2½ billion in the 1950s – to 7½ billion today.
All fed off the same land size – but from three times the number of cattle, three times the chickens, three times the sheep, three times the pigs, three times the salmon, three times the feed crops, fruit and vegetables – all thanks to antibiotics. Ask any farmer, he’ll vote for more.
And for the bulk-up, look no further than your own waistline. Not so svelte and trim, hey? We seem to have bulged a bit over the last fifty years. Ballooning up even faster over the last ten.
So big and so fast that medics are calling it an obesity epidemic – and scratching their heads why. Fatty foods? Non-fatty foods? Carbohydrates? Sugar? Junk food?
Mainlining on growth promoters
Meanwhile we’re oblivious to the glaringly obvious – that every meal we eat is food accelerated by the growth trigger of antibiotics. Every mouthful includes a further dose of the same booster that cows and chickens eat. We’re getting fat off the same stuff they do.
Which puts us about as far away from lifesavers as it’s possible to get. Among the killers at the opposite ends of the scale. Your vote might be in for a big switcheroo.
Because obesity has a price-tag. Continual strain on the body causes diabetes, heart disease, cancer and a slew of other debilitating diseases. Sentencing every one of us fatties to a slow and lingering deterioration and inevitable death – 38 million every year, half the population of Britain.
Yeah, so follow the chain. Antibiotics makes us fat, fat makes us unhealthy, a lot of us are going to die.
So where does your vote stand? Antibiotics: keep, or chuck?
Some overdose. 7.6 million of us makes it 1 in every 10.
Climbing 4 in 10 by 2035.
Nearly half the population of Britain, chopped down by terminal disease.
Condemned to long, slow suffering and years of pain – all from antibiotics.
The end of all of us
Serious stuff from the Obesity Health Alliance – a group of high-powered experts from Cancer Research UK, the British Medical Association, six Royal Colleges and the Royal Society of Public Health.
Quite rightly, they’re sounding alarm bells as our current obesity epidemic takes hold. 18,000 of us a year falling to cancer, rocketing to 38,500 by 2035. 4.62 million new cases of type 2 diabetes. 1.63 million cases of coronary heart disease. A staggering 7.6 million of us.
And that’s not including other obesity-triggered illnesses such as high blood pressure, liver disease, osteoarthritis or chronic kidney disease.
Again quite rightly, the Obesity Health Alliance wants action NOW. Junk food advertising to be banned on TV from 6am to 9pm, food industry limits on sugar and fat – and of course, the much-vaunted sugar tax.
How wrong can we be?
Guaranteed, that will achieve nothing.
Junk food doesn’t make people fat – if you can justify calling it that. Fast foods like burgers, pizzas, sandwiches and the like are all good healthy foods that satisfy millions of people who are NOT obese. They don’t get fat eating them – only if they eat too much. If they overdose.
“…many of the dishes glorified by the wholesome-food movement are as caloric and obesogenic as anything served in a Burger King.” David H. Freedman, The Atlantic magazine
Exactly like they would pigging out on avocado and bananas if they ate enough. It’s not the food that’s unhealthy, it’s the act of gorging on it.
The government can pass all the laws they like – control food content, add warning labels, restrict sales to adults over the age of 35 on presentation of their driving licence – it will make no difference. Just as a sugar tax will make no difference either.
Oh sure – in Mexico, sugar tax caused sales to drop by 12%. That’s sales, not consumption. In the dry areas where there is no safe water supply and the local bottled water doesn’t measure up, people are drinking Coke in the same volumes they always did. No change, even though the stuff costs more.
Is anybody watching?
So come on, what’s with our health professionals who should be calling the shots here? The Obesity Health Alliance, the government, Public Health England, the NHS, everybody – they’re all looking the wrong way.
Fact: people only get obese because they consume too much.
They overdose on food.
And they only overdose because their systems are out of balance. Human beings do not naturally overeat. We are not naturally fat – and throughout history, we never have been. Where on this planet are there naturally occurring fat people?
Right, there aren’t any, because they don’t exist.
But all around the world, all kinds of people are suddenly getting fat. They didn’t do that fifty years ago, what’s different?
One word – antibiotics.
But not as the miracle lifesaving drugs we all think they are and rely on them for.
For fifty years, antibiotics have been pumped into farm animals daily with their feedstuff – to bulk them up bigger and faster. Extracting more out of the same nutrients in a fraction of the time, they have enabled massive factory farms to mass produce food on a scale so large, our world now supports three times the population that it did fifty years ago – all off the same land area.
2½ billion people in the 1950s, 7½ billion people now – that’s the colossal boosting effect of antibiotics as growth promoters working on our food supply – 240,000 tonnes a year right now, and set to climb nearly 70% by 2030.
Yeah, so why are our health authorities looking past this? Or are they in denial?
Animals eat antibiotics, they get fatter. We eat the same animals, we get fatter. We also eat the vegetables, fruit and plant crops that manure from these same animals fertilise. So that with every single meal, from every single source, we get a daily dose of antibiotics – our daily obesity top-up nudge.
Not junk food, junk drugs
So why isn’t anybody surprised here? We’re sleep-walking into this and nobody even notices. At least after 50 years of smoking, health authorities started to listen – and today it’s a recognised health risk.
No difference with obesity. Not just from eating too much, but from EXTRACTING TOO MUCH food value from the stuff we do eat. Just like the cows and pigs and sheep and chickens, our systems have been glitched by antibiotics, it’s what they’re now programmed to do.
“… roundly demonized junk food companies could do far more for the public’s health in five years than the wholesome-food movement is likely to accomplish in the next 50.” David H. Freedman, The Atlantic magazine
Which means even if you DON’T gorge yourself stupid, or glug Coke by the barrel, as top echelon medics like to think we do – we continue to get fatter and fatter. We never used to do it, but now two-thirds of us are already tipping the scales at the porker level.
Next stop, cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, osteoarthritis, chronic kidney disease – take your pick. Our overdose reward.
So, OK Westminster – let’s see if you’ve got brains. Don’t nanny us with how much sugar is allowed in our food – or how much fat, salt, preservatives, additives, colourants, or any other stuff is in there.
Get tough legislation
Ban the antibiotics. Ban them outright.
It’s too late for us existing fatties, of course – we’re already on the slippery slope – with ten or twenty years of hospital visits to look forward to, and an oversize coffin at the end.
But not for our children.
Pull the plug on this self-inflicted curse we’ve lucked on ourselves – and watch new generations grow up athletic and slim like they’re supposed to be. With stronger immune systems too – not clobbered by the biological cosh of antibiotics.
No more overdoses. No more antibiotics. Healthy at last.
One hell of a problem for modern medicine though. No more protection for intricate procedures, almost all surgery totally impossible.
But that was going to happen with antibiotics resistance anyway. The drugs aren’t working – and they kill us by the way we eat – time to dump them.
Time to let everybody live – and end the biggest overdose of all time.
Dodgy place the office can be. Your squeaky-wheel chair. Paper cuts. Stabbing yourself with the stapler.
Plenty of misadventure and only yourself to blame.
But how about if the ceiling falls in? You get trapped in the lift? Or your office chair breaks?
How about if it’s major and you get hurt? Have to go to hospital? Or even take time off?
Most employers are pretty sympathetic.
It wasn’t your fault. They’ve got insurance. The landlord has pots of money and it’s all fixed PDQ – no questions, no worries. Everything turns out hunky.
Duty of care
OK, none of these things happen very often – but most bosses accept that if they do, then it’s their responsibility. Part of their duty of care.
Your workplace welfare is their concern, it’s their job to look after you. And Numero Uno on their list of obligations is ensuring a safe work environment.
Some of them take it further and invest in a workplace wellness programme – actively looking to support and promote employee health, safety and wellbeing.
Hold that thought, health.
When you’re out of action, you’re off the grid. Your job doesn’t get done, there is a hole in the fabric at work. It can lose money, it can lose customers. It can lose goodwill and momentum.
Not so bad if you’re off for a few days from the wrench to your ankle when your chair gave way. Your boss is embarrassed and hoping you won’t sue.
Not your fault
But how about being off with the flu?
Not quite the same, is it? Not exactly your fault, but not quite so sympathetic about it either. Silly you, taking chances out in the rain. Yes, so you caught it from somebody on the tube – but you should be more careful.
And then the flu turns out to be MERS – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. More like pneumonia than flu and people can die from it. And your colleague on the desk next to you just came back from Bahrain.
Company trip or personal, it doesn’t matter. Nobody knew she had it – still in incubation or possibly she is a carrier, catches a mild version and is none the worse for wear.
But not you, you’ve got the lot – fever, coughing AND the diarrhoea. Just from sitting there, doing your job.
Not fair and not right.
Though not even knowing about it, your employer has failed to protect you. Maybe others in your team will also come down with it. Your workplace welfare is compromised and your employer is derelict in duty of care
Care and protection
Oh yes. There’s a whole team of you working together in the same space, normal office bullpen. None of you is the same and probably most of you have some kind of underlying condition – weak chest, heart murmur, IBS, or prone to migraines.
These weaknesses make you vulnerable. If some bug goes around – flu, norovirus, whatever – you’re more likely to get hit. And more likely to get complications.
You need protection FROM EACH OTHER – and as a regular workplace hazard encountered in every business, your employer should provide it.
It’s already necessary too.
One of the highest health hazards of all, ordinary office desks are regularly infested with 10 million of more germs. Escapees from the nightly cleaning crew wipe-down, or long-term lurkers on keyboards, phones, documents, etc – or in the dusty bunnies and detritus behind display screens and control consoles, inaccessible in coils of cabling.
Uh huh. But not the employer’s nightmare it might seem to be.
The premises get cleaned out nightly, right? Vacuumed, wiped down, trash emptied. It might LOOK clean, but the germs are still there – along with others swirling in the air, brought in on the personal auras of you and your colleagues.
Believe it or not, each of us trails a cloud of microscopic bacteria, viruses and body debris – as personal to each of us as a fingerprint or retina scan.
Easy peasy answer
OK, so get rid of the germs too. No germs, no illnesses, no infections. Nobody off work, everybody happy. That massive chunk of absenteeism expense is deleted from the balance sheet.
Unbelievably easy too – with almost no effort.
After everyone’s gone home, a Hypersteriliser gets wheeled in – a kind of dinky, wheelie-bin-sized anti-germ console. Hit the button and the place gets misted up with an ultra-fine super-dry mist of non-toxic, ionised hydrogen peroxide – the same natural germ-killer our own bodies make for ourselves.
The mist is electrostatically charged, which does two things.
First, every single particle tries to get away from itself, like magnets with the same polarity, pushing each other away. This forces the mist to power-disperse in all directions – hard up against all surfaces, walls and ceilings, deep into cracks and crevices, and clutching hard at every single coil of wire.
Second, the negative charge of the peroxide is actively attracted to the positive charge of bacteria and viruses. It vigorously reaches out and grabs at them as it spreads – again like a magnet, snatching at them like iron filings – out of nowhere, out of everywhere – clinging to them and oxidising them to nothing.
Forty minutes later, they’re all gone – the whole place is completely sterile. No MERS, no nothing to threaten anybody. Everybody safe.
Now go tell your boss.
If she knew it was that easy, she’d fall off HER chair.
That’s right, 240,000 tonnes. The amount of antibiotics used worldwide every year.
More than enough for a 25mg dose to every man, woman and child on the planet. Overuse or what?
Overuse – and abuse
But not just for medical purposes. Not just for saving lives and fighting infection.
Most of these antibiotics are pumped daily into farm livestock – ostensibly to keep them healthy, in reality to bulk them up for market – to accelerate their growth so they’re four times the size in a quarter of the time.
Amoxicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline, erythromycin, vancomycin, you name it – all types that we’re familiar with and have probably taken ourselves at some stage – all get fed to the 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle and 1 billion sheep and pigs that feed the world.
Together they account for around 75% of the total 240,000 tonnes world antibiotics output.
You got that right, three quarters of the antibiotics the world chomps through every year are for non-medical use. No wonder we have a problem with antimicrobial resistance.
Bacteria always win
No wonder that savvy bacteria – one of the most successful and longest-surviving life forms of all time – have developed ways to overcome whatever we throw at them. With that kind of volume, they’ve even learned over the years how pass their immunity on to others.
It’s now perfectly possible for a doctor to begin treatment for an illness never seen before, only to find it already has a resistance to every drug in the medicine cupboard. Even colistin and carbapenem, normally held in reserve as drugs of last resort, have been found to be ineffective.
Well sure, global demand for colistin in agriculture was expected to reach 11,942 tonnes per annum by the end of 2015 – generating an income of US$229·5 million – and rising to 16,500 tonnes by 2021.
Result, our defences are breached, there’s no more left in the cupboard.
Doctors are now fighting a rear-guard action and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is spelling the total collapse of modern medicine. No more heart bypasses or hip replacements, no more caesarean births – without effective infection control, this is the end.
The world in denial
So all of a sudden, the clamour is on to find new antibiotics. Not 240,000 tonnes of old ones.
Lord Jim O’Neill, AMR adviser to the Prime Minister, has even suggested that drug companies should be forced into researching them – a big stick to be sweetened by cash handouts and incentives if necessary.
Nice one, Jim. Except with 240,000 tonnes regular output, those companies are not exactly strapped for cash.
At 20p for a single 25mg dose of say, amoxicillin, that’s £1.9 billion they’re raking in every year, just from their ka-chunk-ka-chunk machines going round the clock to keep the farmers happy.
In the meantime, resistant bacteria are growing all the time – and getting away with murder.
Which means throwing money at developing new antibiotics is a losing battle anyway. Bacteria always win – so it could be only months, or a best a few years, before the latest wonder-drug also winds up being useless.
And what happens when AMR spreads to shut down agriculture as well? 19 billion chickens, 1.4 billion cattle and 1 billion sheep and pigs suddenly peg off – and the next thing is world famine.
You see, nobody wants to face the elephant in the room. That antibiotics are over. Lifesavers while they lasted, but now they’re finished. Even beginning to kill more of us than they’re saving.
What the money needs to be spent on – agricultural profits and cash incentives combined – is a serious REPLACEMENT. Abandoning antibiotics altogether and developing alternatives like bacteriophages – harnessing VIRUSES to destroy pathogenic bacteria.
Alongside that, we need to jack up our cleanliness levels across the board. Without antibiotics as a safety net for careless and dirty habits, proper hygiene becomes essential. Washing hands whenever possible – removing all health hazards.
Which means sterilising our workplaces too. To protect ourselves from each other as much as from germs. Schools, hospitals, public buildings, restaurants, entertainment places all need the same treatment. The best way to avoid infection is not to expose ourselves to germs in the first place.
Money, money money. It’s a world wide crisis.
Let’s hope those drug companies wake up in time and stop worrying about their 240,000 tonnes.
AMR can wipe them out just as quickly as us ordinary folk.
In the UK, fully two thirds of us are already clinically overweight or obese – 1.4 billion worldwide. Already on the downhill slope to serious health complications – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma. Known killers with a combined death rate of 30 million a year worldwide – and rapidly accelerating.
How did this happen? We’re not stupid, we’re not irresponsible.
Damn it, we’re not even confirmed gluttons, for goodness sake. Sure, some fat people eat like there’s no tomorrow – but most of us are miserable with our weight and eat like birds.
It’s as if we’re cursed.
Oh yes, indeed – there’s a curse alright. For far too many of us, obesity is a long and lasting illness ending in a death sentence.
We can play around with diets, we can delude ourselves with exercise – and for a lucky and very determined few, maybe that will work.
For the rest of us, there is no escape. Like it or not, at some time in the future we’ll be going to hospital more and more often – closer and closer to our one-way ticket with destiny.
The curse of antibiotics
Most unpalatable of all is the truth of how we got here.
“It is impossible to be obese unless one is eating too many calories,” said Lord McColl, emeritus professor of surgery at Guys Hospital, in an address to the House of Lords last week.
Yeah right, we’re dying of hunger and ridiculed as fatties, what the hell’s going on?
The real curse is antibiotics.
Miracle lifesavers in the medical field, miracle money-makers in agriculture.
Because antibiotics are champion growth promoters bar none. Added to livestock feed in small doses every day, they boost growth like crazy, accelerate development up to four times faster. From egg to full-grown roasting chicken in 6 weeks. From calf to Aberdeen Angus sirloin steak in 16 months instead of four years.
And the same thing is happening to us.
We eat them, so small traces of antibiotics get through in our diet with every meal we eat. Either directly from their meat, or indirectly from the manure they produce – laced through with antibiotics that fertilise every kind of vegetable and fruit crop.
Just like the animals, the antibiotics make our bodies resistant to the hormone that tells us when we’ve had enough to eat – leptin resistance – we keep eating unconsciously. As Lord McColl says, ” Obesity is a hormonal disorder leading to abnormal energy partitioning, which cannot be solely fixed by increasing exercise.”
Growth promoters – the fat makers
Unfortunately, that’s not all that antibiotics do. As champion growth promoters, they make us more efficient at absorbing the nutrients we do consume. Even if we’re not eating more, we’re EXTRACTING more – squeezing out more calories than normal people are capable of.
Not difficult when you think how digestive systems work. As part of Nature’s wonderful cycle that interrelates everything to everything else, most livestock only digest 80-90% of what they eat, the rest is excreted as waste. That’s where the manure comes from that fertilises almost all commercial plant life – and where we get our daily dose of antibiotics from, pooed out with other nutrients.
But antibiotics cause animals to grab a whole chunk more nosh value than just 10%. Squeezing more calories out, they beef up bigger and faster – and we do exactly the same. Instead of passing through 80%, we might pass through 60% or even 50%. Without our knowing it, we’re absorbing the equivalent of two meals instead of one, every time we eat.
No wonder we’re the size of a house without any effort!
And all the rest
Which is how come we’re obese – and how come we’ve developed all those other disorders that have crept up on us since bacteria-killing antibiotics started messing with the delicate balance of our own internal gut bacteria. Allergies, immune system deficiencies – phantom disorders that feel very real, making our bodies react to conditions that just aren’t there.
Is there anything that can be done about it?
Not a lot.
We all have to eat – but round the world, our food production process is a gigantic machine almost impossible to stop.
We could try to eat less – deliberately try to bring our calorie count down. Going serious cold turkey, like giving up smoking. Very, very hard if you’ve never tried. But we NEED those nutrients to keep our systems ticking over. Starving ourselves is dicey and unlikely to be healthy.
Or we can change our food source. Get off the antibiotics and hope that by removing our daily fix, we can reverse some of the damage they’ve done. Which means organic foods, growing our own at home without fertilisers – and eating fish that’s only deep sea fresh, none of the farmed stuff.
Ways of winning
Which leaves exercise. We’re small eaters already, shamed by our bodies – so with antibiotics off the menu together with some sensible workouts, maybe expending energy will be a little less like pushing water uphill.
There is hope. Reducing even a teaspoon of fat from around our pancreas can have the effect of reversing type 2 diabetes.
One down, fewer to go.
With luck you’ll lose more of the right kind of weight before any of the other big hitters kick in.
Not nice, norovirus. It stops you doing nice things too.
Holidays, celebrations, momentous occasions – the ultimate party pooper.
So here’s a guide to help you avoid it. To side-step catching it in the first place, and protect yourself when other people around you come down with it.
You can be unlucky, of course. But nine times out of ten, these simple tips should help you stay out of trouble.
First off, know that norovirus is very, very virulent – an unpleasant illness on a hair trigger that is easily touched off. Other viruses and most bacteria need at least 20 or 30 cells to attack you with if they’re going to infect you.
Norovirus only needs half that, which makes it twice as dodgy. A nasty, horrible illness that’s super-contagious – spread mostly by touch, but also in the air. Get it on your fingers, your clothing or your skin and you have to be really careful.
It’s also pernicious, at home anywhere and able to survive on most surfaces for over a month. And since it spreads so easily, anything touched by other people is a possible contact point – especially high-touch objects like door handles, grab rails, light switches, phones, keypads and cutlery you eat with.
How does it get into your body?
Usually through your mouth. You can breathe it in or swallow it, either on contaminated food or anything eaten with your fingers.
Which means everybody’s favourite fast foods – hot dogs, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, fish and chips, chicken drumsticks, wraps, crisps, biscuits, cake – all the easy fast foods.
Or if you’re on holiday – olives, pitta, humous, shawarmas, kebabs, falafel, Tex-Mex favourites like tacos, fajitas, tamales, burritos and tortillas – not to mention churros, pancakes, baklava or a good dripping cone of ice cream.
Yup, all the nice stuff when you’re having a nice time. Indulgent, spur-of-the-moment, soul-boosting street-food. Tasty, tactile, goodness oozing from your fingers – you know the score.
But note the common denominator – all finger food. Stuff you can scoff with your hands, right in the middle of doing something else. Or anything with a lot of handling by others around you – tear-and-share, buffets, smorgasbords, group curries.
All easily contaminated by just one person’s unclean fingers –including yours.
Finger-lickin’ good, maybe – fingers pointing at trouble more like.
Big tummy trouble.
And that’s the bummer.
Because most of the time we eat without thinking because our hands LOOK clean. Yet realistically our fingers could be loaded with all kinds of yuk too small to see – a single norovirus cell is just 2 microns across, about a 10,000th the width of a human hair.
It floats around easily in the air, lighter than cigarette smoke. And settles invisibly on your skin, scraping together easily with its brothers and sisters as you wipe your hand across – groups of 20, 500, 1,000 cells, all ready to go.
Which brings us to Reality Check One – most norovirus attacks are self-inflicted. The stuff is already on our skin and we don’t even know it. We let our hygiene lapse at the wrong moment – and four hours later it’s cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea like we don’t ever want to believe.
Like the nagging granny in our heads keeps reminding us – WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS.
If only it was that easy.
Because when does anyone get the chance, on the go most of the time – especially on holiday?
But unfortunately, that’s not good enough if you want to skip the spoil-sport tummy-torture. All it needs is ONE slip up, one forgetful moment with unwashed paws, and you’ll be chundering through the next few days.
One in the eye
Uh huh. So here’s a memory jogger.
You’re on the beach, yeah? Slapping on the suntan lotion. You wipe your hands down, but somehow, you touch your face – and the stuff gets in your eye.
Yeow, itch, instant anguish. Your whole day scuppered till you get back to the hotel, rinse your eye out and sit there with a damp cloth to your face for an hour. But let that tell you something.
That’s how norovirus works.
It’s a fact of life that we touch our faces all the time – 2,000-3,000 times a day for some of us. And that’s norovirus’s easiest way into our bodies – through the soft tissue of our eyes and mouth.
Suntan lotion on your fingers just loses you a day. Norovirus on your fingers can screw your whole holiday – or your wedding, or your graduation, or anything else it’s the pits to lose out on.
Yeah, so you know the drill.
WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS. Particularly after going to the loo – and always before food.
From lo-giene to hygiene
Shocking revelation isn’t it, to sit down to this slap-up dinner after a wonderful day – and suddenly realise that with all the places you’ve been and things you’ve done, you haven’t washed your hands since breakfast?
So Reality Check Two – handling norovirus means hiking our personal hygiene to a whole different level. Day-to-day, what we’re living with most of the time is “low-giene”.
Yeah, yeah, dirty hands. But you see these reports all the time, lots of people all getting sick at the same – what about food poisoning? Don’t vendors and restaurants serve food that’s contaminated?
For sure. And we all know the cause. Either the food itself is off, or is touched in preparation by someone with dirty hands.
Not as common as you might think, because anywhere that sells food wants to be in business today AND tomorrow. They also have laws to follow, standards to observe, codes of practice. So most of the time, they DO take care. A law suit could cost big money – and easily be the end of them.
So how can you tell if it’s self-inflicted or food poisoning?
Your fault or theirs?
Reality Check Three – the vomiting, the diarrhoea, they’re earth-shatteringly violent because that’s how norovirus spreads itself – as far and wide as possible, very quickly.
Even so, it takes time to assert itself – and from that, you can often tell how it started.
If an outbreak happens in ones and twos, it’s probably triggered by an individual – either from unwashed hands or by suspect food from an external source – something eaten before they arrived where you are. Unwashed hands most likely – suspect self-inflicted
If a whole crowd of people comes down together, that suggests they were exposed simultaneously – some kind of shared experience. That could be either from something they’ve eaten – they were all served the same dish at the same time. Unwashed hands most likely again – though this time in preparing a popular food dish – suspect staff hygiene lapse, or dodgy food source.
Norovirus also triggers by mishap, as happened in a Swiss hotel – bad luck for everyone in the place, who all came down with it at once. Flash flooding from a cloudburst overwhelmed the drains, forcing guests and staff to wade through water backed up from the toilets.
An outbreak was inevitable, however much everyone washed themselves and their clothes – furniture, fittings and all facilities were all heavily contaminated – instant infection until they were destroyed and the whole building sanitised.
Bad, bad boomerang
Which leads to Realty Check Four – the norovirus boomerang effect. The virus returns very easily to cause repeat outbreaks if it is not completely and utterly removed after the hit in the first place.
Cruise liners are really prone to this for two reasons. Lots of people close together in shared eating and living space, handling the same objects. Plus millions of nooks and crannies where the virus can hide during even the most rigorous scrub-downs.
The handling thing is a nightmare, as there are endless things that everybody touches that can pass on by contact. Called fomites, these germ-transfer items include glasses, knives and forks, deck chairs, gym equipment, poker chips, playing cards, courtesy bibles, whatever – all of which have to be individually sanitised to avoid repeats.
Repeat outbreaks happened recently with Fred Olsen Line’s Balmoral – struck down 6 times since 2009 – and a latest misfortune just last month that ruined an Old England to New England cruise for hundreds of passengers.
Holland America Line’s Caribbean cruise liner Amsterdam was also unlucky – having to cancel four trips in succession because of repeat outbreaks in 1982. It got so bad, the ship had to be taken out of service to ensure thorough decontamination – and new passengers were even warned before embarking that the ship had previously had problems it couldn’t get rid of.
Get out of jail, free
Doom and gloom? Avoid holidays like the plague?
You can just as easily catch norovirus at home, just by forgetting to wash your hands.
And that’s the key to a perfect holiday, even the stay-at-home kind. Always wash your hands before putting anything in your mouth. And keep your hands clean too. Your fingers might be safe, but the things you touch with them are almost certainly not – indoors or outdoors, germs are a reality we have to live with.
Recognising that, plan for when you can’t wash your hands too.
Always carry hand-wipes, even if they’re not antibacterial. Easy enough to use, right at the dinner table – and doing it properly will get rid norovirus and 99.9% of all other germs.
Handbag size antibacterial gel is good too – the alcohol base kills germs, though is not as effective as physically wiping them away.
Beyond that, be careful.
If somebody close to you comes down with norovirus, you don’t need to get it too. Obviously avoid accident areas of vomit or diarrhoea. Keep well clear, the yuk can spread several feet in all directions.
If you’re involved in a clean-up, wear gloves, cover your nose and mouth too. Wash all over thoroughly afterwards and discard your clothes for thorough washing too.
Clean beyond normal
Be aware though that normal disinfecting is unlikely to go far enough. The whole place needs a good going-over, especially every last nook and cranny if the virus is not to come back again.
Almost impossible with scrubbing and bleach, the easy way is with ionised hydrogen peroxide – misted up into the air by a Hypersteriliser and electrostatically charged so it disperses actively in all directions, killing airborne and surface germs deep into every crack and crevice.
All viruses and bacteria dead, no boomerang, no nothing.
Wait up, hold it! An itty-bitty dirt is not manslaughter.
The place is cleaned daily. Professional hit teams. Vacuumed, dusted, wiped clean – all waste removed, toilets thoroughly disinfected.
Clean, but not always safe
Yeah good, but not you’re off the hook by any means.
OK, so you apply precautions where they’re needed. Hard hat on the shop floor – goggles, gloves, protective boots – full hazmat if necessary.
Health & Safety, right? Nothing gets past you.
That’s why the cleaning teams, naturally. Duty of care and all that jazz.
Until Freddie in Exports has a seizure at his desk and is DOA at the hospital.
Ignorance is no excuse
OK, so you weren’t to know. An underlying condition he never spoke about. It was there in his records, but he always looked chipper. Worked harder than anyone else, always in the middle of things. Triggered by an everyday bug doing the rounds – flu probably, it felled several others on the Third Floor.
It happens. Changeable weather, hot and cold in the same day – rain one minute, heatwave the next. Everybody is exposed.
Hold that thought, exposed.
Like to asbestos, or carbon monoxide? Don’t both of those carry criminal penalties? That’s not you, surely?
Ah, but it is. Even if it happens unknowingly.
But hang on – gross negligence? Manslaughter? That’s a bit heavy, isn’t it?
Stick to the facts, Freddie DIED, didn’t he?
Duty of care
Because you’re supposed to know – to ensure that your workplace is safe for employees. It’s the due diligence edge of duty of care – the bit with teeth.
Alright, so ask yourself, IS your workplace safe for employees?
Ordinary office space, with the usual bullpen arrangement. The cleaning team do a good job, nothing to worry about, right?
Depends how well they clean, how thorough they are at both removing the dirt AND removing any germs. Dirt equals germs, that’s THEIR mission.
Uh huh. And it’s YOURS to make sure it’s done right.
Like wiping down the desks – routine stuff, a piece of cake.
Make that a maybe.
Good old bleach
Usual procedure involves a damp cloth, it takes away the fine grit that gets everywhere – and removes the dust bunnies. With luck, it’s soaked in sodium hypochlorite – otherwise known as bleach – to disinfect as it cleans, oxidising germs away.
At least, that’s the theory.
But germs don’t just roll over and die, that depends on contact time. And contact time for bleach is ten to fifteen minutes to be effective, depending on concentration. Strong enough to start a nasty headache if you’re working with it, and likely to take the skin of your hands off. Diluted, it just does nothing. Which begins to make manslaughter a possibility.
Because don’t say you’re not aware of the health hazards on the average office desk. Daily media brings that up several times a year – scare tactics to sell more newspapers. Typically, any desk in your office is likely to harbour at least 10 million germs, before or after cleaning. Remember now?
And it’s true, absolutely gospel.
Check out your workstations after they’ve been processed – a Heineken inspection of the parts that ordinary cleaning rag can’t reach. Lift the keyboards, look behind the display screens – and how about round the coils of wire connecting all those CPUs?
One word for it, gruesome.
10 million germs? Quite possibly more.
And you’re exposing your staff to those germs, just by doing nothing. Coughs, colds, flu virus, food poisoning, norovirus – it was only a matter of time before poor Freddie copped it.
And money talks
Anyway, if nowhere else, you’ve got to see it show up on your P&L. Staff absenteeism from sickness regularly costs the country – and businesses like yours – a whopping £29 billion a year. How can anyone afford that?
All of which means that – good though they are – your cleaning service are not up to the job. At least not from the disinfecting angle. AND you’re losing a bomb each year from staff sickies.
It also means, if you stop and think about it, that you ARE culpable for poor Freddie’s death. Not intentionally, mind – but responsible none the less. Just as you would be for the rest of your staff – because these days, who DOESN’T have an underlying condition?
Everybody’s got something
Go round the office – how many of your staff are 100% fit? How many wear glasses – does your lighting minimise eye strain? How many smoke – does your aircon handle it, and how many are already candidates for COPD? How many stuff themselves on fast food and have IBS?
And how many don’t wash their hands when they go to the loo – then touch everything else in the office: files, memos, keypads, phones, photocopiers, light switches – and perpetually call in sick?
And don’t get us started on the office air.
Breathe deep, if you dare
Most germs are so small at 2 microns or less, they’re probably airborne more than they infest surfaces anyway. On top of which, every single one of us is pulling around our own personal aura of bacteria, viruses, fungus and body detritus like hair and dead skin – the place is literally crawling.
Your whole staff is exposed to all this – including you – and you still reckon Freddie is nothing to do with you?
Especially when you realise that it’s all preventable, that Freddie didn’t have to die.
Yeah sure, with a heart condition like he had, it was going to happen some time – but with proper due diligence, it didn’t have to happen on your watch. Or if it did, as long as you’d taken every precaution beforehand, his demise was unfortunate but inevitable.
Safe and secure
Because the dead easy way to protect your staff from exposure to germs is to treat the place regularly after hours with a Hypersteriliser – a wheelie-bin sized automatic machine that just makes the problem disappear.
Press one button and an ultra-fine dry mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide fills the whole air space and pushes up hard against every surface – oxidising ALL viruses and bacteria to oblivion in just seconds.
Allow forty minutes or so to disperse throughout the whole volume area – and the entire room is sterile. No germs for anyone to catch, no sickness, no complications. No noxious residue either, the stuff breaks down into oxygen and water.
Plus, with any luck, you get a major dip in absenteeism. Money in the bank, whichever way you look at it.
And a whole lot better than gross negligence manslaughter.
We don’t see terrorists coming. We don’t see the dangers of antibiotics either – both of them set to nuke us when we least expect it.
A terrorist bomb might take out a city the size of Greater Manchester – thousands dead, hundreds of thousands more facing years of radiation sickness – like being dead before it actually happens.
Antibiotics are no prettier.
An invisible war
Because to the trillions and trillions of beneficial bacteria in our own gut, nukes are exactly what antibiotics are. Evil invaders who only want to destroy. Mass killers.
Imagine Greater Manchester, millions of times over. That’s what life is like down there in our insides, more bacteria than there are human cells. Reality is, we’re a harmonious, co-existing miracle that’s 90% germs.
Now comes an oral dose of antibiotics – amoxicillin, say – prescribed for some troubling ailment, often unnecessarily. Trillions and trillions of microscopic but benevolent bacteria – versus 250 mg of devastating nuclear destruction.
A massive chunk of your gut, nuked to nothing.
You’re right. The medicine might clobber whatever the problem is – but the body will never return to exactly the way it was. Too many innocent bystanders caught in the fallout. Billions killed, vital diversity reduced. The system is not as strong as the way it was, no longer as all-round resilient.
But there are survivors. Maybe a bit damaged, or not fully functioning – but wise to what antibiotics are capable of, and aware of what they need to do to escape. Next time, even more will endure. And even more after that.
Until the day comes that an antibiotic hits the gut, and our bacteria are impervious. Even to nukes.
Our bacteria have learned how to resist the drugs – even shared their survival skills with others, so all of them are immune. Antimicrobial resistance it’s called – AMR. Wish we could have the same resistance to terrorists.
Except big-scale calamities are not usually the way terrorists work, are they? 9/11 doesn’t happen every day.
More effective – and more insidious – are the little attacks that do. Happen every day, that is. Always there, never letting up, determined to bring us down, little by little. Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan theatre, Brussels airport.
The real killers
Exactly like antibiotics do.
Better believe it.
Because without our even thinking about it, we’re swallowing down antibiotics into our gut little by little with every meal.
In the milk with our corn flakes. In the oats for our porridge. In our bacon and eggs. In the chicken for our sandwich, and the lettuce with it. In the bangers and mash for tea, including in the baked beans.
Little hand grenades in our gut, or letting loose with a machine pistol. Nothing serious, but always damage. Little bits of us that suddenly aren’t working any more.
How is this possible?
It all started back in 1946, when a researcher named Moore discovered the growth stimulation of antibiotics fed to chicks. A colleague named Jukes reached the same conclusion in 1952 – feed small amounts of antibiotics to livestock every day, and they bulk up like crazy.
Money, money, money. Fat, fatter, fattest.
And did we mention money?
Today, 240,000 tonnes of antibiotics are pumped into farm livestock every year. Bigger, better, fatter than ever – and more of them. Enabling our own human world population to explode from 2½ billion in the 1950s, to 7½ billion now.
And of course, all these animals poo – excreting, would you believe, more than 75% of the nutrients they consume – including the antibiotics. “In 2002, 185 million swine sold in the US generated about 280 million tons of fresh manure; in 2006, chicken produced even more (460 million tons), while, in 2007, beef cattle produced 3.6 million tons of manure.”
Knee-deep in trouble
Used as fertiliser for all kinds of agricultural crops – fruit, veg, cereals, grains. And of course feedstuffs for livestock – so that farm animals re-eat the same antibiotics they ate before, with the same effect.
They keep getting fatter and fatter, growing faster and faster – and making more and more money.
Must be tough, being an antibiotics manufacturing company. 240,000 tonnes of stuff turned out by machine ka-chunk-ka-chunk, no effort, no investment – just keep rolling and take the money. No need to invest in new research, the goldmine is already working overtime.
Need proof? Just check your own waistline.
Bigger than it was, huh? You didn’t always wear a Size 16.
But look around, it’s not just you – this is a world-wide epidemic. Two-thirds of us are already way overweight or positively obese. All thanks to the same trigger that makes farm animals fat too – antibiotics.
Whatever food we ingest, antibiotics are in there somewhere. Directly in the food, or absorbed from manure-enriched soil, or leached through into our river systems so even the water we drink is spiked. Antibiotics pollution.
Too big for our own good
Result: obesity is a condition we’re all of us beginning to share – and no way is that healthy.
In fact it’s deadly.
Check the numbers and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – which means illnesses that cannot be treated by antibiotics – kills about 50,000 of us a year.
But obesity works like the terrorist’s nuclear bomb – wide-reaching, slow-acting, with extreme pain and suffering. The equivalent of radiation sickness – attacking our bodies in the form of diabetes, heart disease, cancer or worse – killing 30 million of us or more every year, and climbing all the time.
Yup – long-term, obesity is going to get most of us. Looking forward to 20 years of medicines, time off in bed, hospital visits, and feeling more and more unwell – more pressure on the NHS than any of us could ever imagine.
Two-thirds of adults – world-wide that’s around 3 billion people. Which kinda makes deaths from AMR look like chicken-feed.
Worse than any terrorist, nuke or no nuke. Worse than any threat we’ve ever faced before – including plagues and world wars.
Is there a solution?
Stop, stop, stop
Short term, eat only organic or ocean fresh – and drink only rainwater.
Long term, STOP USING ANTIBIOTICS and find a replacement.
Anything less and we might as well nuke ourselves.
Some nasty bug – a killer variant of cholera – spread by contaminated food.
Not from your five-star beach hotel of course.
But from your fingers.
Hidden dangers – unaware
Because of the crack-of-dawn start to your sight-seeing tour. A mad dash to the loo before you held the coach up. The market, the temple, the boat-trip, the beach barbie. An amazing day – but without one chance to wash your hands. Or even think about it.
A sizzling plate of food and you’re about to dive in – until you check the grubby fingerprints on your water glass.
Ew, that was you! A whole day’s yuck on your hands – which you don’t even see because germs are too small.
But you excuse yourself anyway and head for the bathroom – all glitter and glass and wafting incense. And luckily for you, a good sensible soap and running hot water.
Grubby fingerprints gone. Gunge from the handrails, manky stuff in the street, don’t-ask from the funny place – and yes, you’re not even aware of it, but faecal residue as well – poo from the loo.
Back home of course, you might get away with it. At worst a touch of norovirus and gone. Not nice while it happens, but you’ll survive. A reminder to ALWAYS wash your hands.
Not quite the same on holiday, especially in hot countries. Germs breed easier, transfer easier – and are very often more deadly. Not worth the risk. And totally avoidable if you wash your hands.
Of course that’s our problem isn’t it?
Our hands don’t LOOK dirty, so we think they’re clean. We’re just not dirt-aware enough to keep remembering. But who wants norovirus – or worse, to come home from their holiday in a box?
Keeping them clean is a schlep too, because germs are everywhere – billions and billions of viruses and bacteria – on every surface, in the air, on our own skin except where we’ve washed our hands. Everything might look harmless, but in reality is a potential nightmare, especially at the office.
OK, we can’t do much about germs surrounding us outside in the open, but we can do something about them in our living space. And the way we are with out modern lifestyles, we spend 90% of our time indoors anyway.
Uh huh. Not exactly the healthiest. WE might be harmless to ourselves, but indoors is a space we share with lots of others – school, work, eating out, entertainment.
Personal germ clouds
And every single one of us carries around our own swirling cloud of hidden bacteria – so uniquely distinct to each of us that cops in the near future will be able to ID we were there – just by reading our lingering germ-sign.
Which adds up to germs on everything around us – and clouds of germs towed around by others surrounding us. So easy to pick up – by breathing or touching something – and then absently touching our mouth or eyes.
What could it be? Norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter, or escherichia coli? Enough to hospitalise us if they’re bad, or finish us off if we’re unlucky. Or sometimes even worse. How about that cholera variant you had that close call with – from other colleagues back from holiday?
But like soap and water takes germs off your hands, you can take away the germs surrounding you too. Kinda important if you have an underlying medical condition that maybe even you don’t know about. Or one of your colleagues does – and a simple infection triggers a whole life-threatening experience.
Safe and sterile
Which is why all kinds of places are using ionised hydrogen peroxide – misting up their rooms to take down all viruses and bacteria. Safe and sterile every morning, in addition to clean floors and empty waste bins. No smells, no germs, no health problems.
Lucky escapes every day. And you never have to worry about them.