Nil by mouth – you’re going for blood tests, trying to lose weight, or simply purifying your system.
And now out of nowhere comes the cramps and the vomiting. Some kind of gastro, probably norovirus.
The family all went out for eats, but you stayed home. Not off your food or anything, just not eating now.
So they came home full of the joys, but 24 hours later were all as sick as dogs.
You too, though you never touched at thing. Anyway Mexican disagrees with you – all those jalapeños, burn your insides out.
Ah, but you touched them, didn’t you – the rest of the family? And they touched you.
It’s on your fingers
And that’s all it takes when there are germs about, especially a potent nasty like norovirus. Like the lady who came down with it from NOT eating oysters.
Norovirus spreads on contact – and it’s highly contagious, 1,000 times more virulent than flu.
A hug or a cuddle, and you’ve got it too. Transferred from skin or clothing – or something others have handled. Irises from the florist they brought back for you. The mobile with the pictures they took to show who was there. The car keys in the dish in the hallway.
Could you have stopped it?
But like most of us, you don’t think you’re under threat until something happens. And with norovirus – which takes 24 hours before it shows itself – it’s too late when it does.
Which is always the thing with germs.
They’re there all the time, even though you can’t seem them. Too small, unless you have a very powerful microscope. Out of sight, out of mind.
And your immune system kicks in most of the time, before they do damage. Day-to-day, you have no idea there’s a war on.
But, being so potent, norovirus only needs a touch. And it’s lighter than air molecules, so it could be floating around in suspension too. Somebody pulls off a heavy sweater and a whole cloud of microbes is flung off – to breathe in, catch on your skin, lodge in the soft tissue round your eye
Or simply get swallowed.
Same thing if it’s on your hands – the hug, remember?
Which straight away shows how easily food poisoning happens.
And how easy it is to avoid.
Wash hands, use an antibacterial gel, use antibacterial wipes – whatever. It’s better than being ill. Better than the pain and discomfort of the cramps. Better than the indignity of vomiting and diarrhoea.
OK, we’re lazy, but norovirus is not a bug to play games with. In the US, around 20 million people come down with it every year – 10% of all Americans. 400,000 of them wind up in A&E and 800 actually die.
All because we’re afraid of soap and water?
That doesn’t wash, does it? If it’s so easy to be safe, why the heck aren’t we?
And if we backed up washing hands with a Hypersteriliser, we’d be even safer.
It makes rooms sterile by destroying all viruses and bacteria – oxidising them to nothing with hydrogen peroxide plasma.
OK, you can start eating again.
With your hands clean and the germs gone, you know you can safely enjoy it.
Everything getting to you. Tense. Uneasy. Pressure head when you least want it.
Reckon it’s the job, not you?
Come on, now. You knew the odds when you took it.
Good money, good prospects – and you can smash the glass ceiling.
Bigger than you
So what happened?
Where’s the confidence? The get-up-and-go? The sure conviction you can rule the world?
Better man up – or it’s down the tubes.
No more flying high, back to the grunt.
Not you though, is it? Always the winner. And savvy with it. Able to handle pressure. Able to handle yourself. Cool and easy with it. More than equal to the office bully. Better than your boss – who’s pushing you forward, all the time. Sure promotion material. The only way is up.
OK, so you’ve got the job taped – as long as you get over this downer.
So it’s not you either, what the heck’s going on?
Ever wondered why it’s easier at home? Why that sick, grey feeling is gone at week-ends?
There’s the clue, right there – sick.
You don’t feel sick – leastways, not out of the office. But that doesn’t mean you’re 100 per either.
Why you’re not yourself
Ever heard of sick building syndrome? You think it’s you, not coming up to the mark. You notice the lapses in concentration – but not the headaches or nausea, or shortness of breath. Too busy, giving it your all – the job’s got to get done, right? And it’s got to be competitive.
But it exists – sick building syndrome. Not a fig of people’s imaginations. Not just old buildings either. Often new ones – stylish, smart, and misery-makers for everyone who works in them.
Sometimes it’s just unlucky – like the building vibrates because of where it’s situated. The ground resonates with passing traffic and low frequency vibes play with everyone’s head. Or the Underground twangs the building foundations with every train – a shudder you feel, but can’t hear. Shaking you to bits.
More common is mould – from dampness in the walls. Not visible where you work, but in the cavities behind. Flat roof not sealed properly, leaking down from the top floor. Or condensation because the temperature insulation is too darned efficient.
Mould spores in the air, breathing problems, itchiness, feeling ratty and tired. You’re not you because of what you breathe.
Hold that thought. It’s not just you that works there, right? There’s a whole team of you, mostly in open plan. Human beings together, interacting with each other.
Outnumbered by bugs
Except there’s a lot more to human beings than you might think.
Bacteria for a start. Living naturally in our bodies and co-existing with them. So necessary, we could never survive without them. So numerous, they outnumber our own body cells more than 10 to 1.
Like several hundred trillion of them live in our gut, handling the digestive grunt our own bodies can’t. It’s where we get our gut-feel from. Our bacteria need our bodies to survive. If we’re threatened or in danger, they alert the brain. Butterflies in your tummy is a real sensation. Ignore at your peril.
It’s not just our gut either. It’s everywhere throughout ourselves – and hovering in clouds around us too. Everywhere we go, we trail a bio-cloud with us. An aura of bacteria and viruses – some good, some bad, depending on the health balance of our systems.
But of course, everybody’s different. What works for you may not work for others – and the other way around. And we’re moving around and though each other’s bio-clouds as we work – giving off our bacteria, getting others back. Sometimes bad ones – breathed in, or absorbed through the skin.
Or more than likely, ingested through the mouth or the sensitive tissue round our eyes and nose. Without realising it, every one of us touches our face 3 to 5 times a minute – 2,000 to 3,000 times a day. Whatever our hands touch can find a way in.
And our hands touch everything, don’t they? Clean, dirty, whatever – buttons, door handles, grab-handles touched by thousands of others too. And the BLT you’re about to have for lunch – because like most of us, you eat at your desk. The job’s too important to take a break – besides, it’s wet out there and all you do is spend money.
Bacteria from all those things you’ve touched, from your colleagues’ bio-clouds too – you can’t see them, but you can bet they’re on your hands. Transferred to your BLT before you’ve even taken a swallow.
Are you lucky, or unlucky? Because even lurking on your own desk is the chance to catch anything from colds and flu to norovirus, e.coli, MRSA, c.difficile or worse. Knock you out for a few days, or even put you in hospital. Worst case scenario, make you dead.
Uh huh, again.
So if you want to get your mojo back, better do something.
OK, you can’t wash your hands every five seconds – it’s impractical and you’ve got to stay with the action. Projects to sort, phones to answer, conversations to jump into. You’re one of the decision-takers, a hands-on honcho who mustn’t miss a trick.
Step one, keep a pack of antibacterial hand-wipes on your desk. They take off goo better than gel and can sanitise your desk too in just a jiffy. No more germs on your hands, your BLT is safe.
So how about the bio-clouds? Every night when you all go home, some of everybody’s bacteria signature lingers in the air, waiting for you tomorrow. If there’s a bug to catch in that lot, you’re at hazard, even if the carrier has moved to the other end of the country.
Step two, strong-arm the boss into getting a Hypersteriliser. Your nightly protection when the office closes.
Any viruses or bacteria – in the air, or on surfaces – is oxidised to nothing by the fine mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide that gets in everywhere – even cracks and crevices. Walk in next morning and the whole place is sterile – no bugs anywhere, totally safe.
Wanna bet you feel better after that?
And feeling good does things to your performance too. Builds optimism. Pumps up confidence. Inspires you more than anything else on the planet.
Wait a minute, there’s a blame game attached to this?
But don’t feel too bad, we’re all in this together.
Handling the hygiene habit
Because their being off work is legit enough.
Though because of you or them is up for grabs.
Well, think about it. How many times is it just ONE staffer who clocks off ill at a time?
Unless they’ve just come back from holiday and a bug they caught along with catching rays drops them as they return.
More often it’s a clutch of staffers at the same time, yes? Sickies all come at once.
All with the same symptoms, whatever they are – either something flu-ey, or else tummy troubles. Viruses going round – and not the computer kind.
Which flags up immediately that your people caught it at work. But no nasturtiums on you, they spend most of their daylight hours here, so where else would they catch it?
But WHY did they catch it?
Only two causes.
The germs were already lurking round in the office, waiting in ambush.
Or your poor team ingested something that gave them the bug.
The first one is your concern. The second is theirs.
Though in fairness to you, they COULD have prevented things.
Most illnesses happen by ingestion. Somehow or other, a virus or bacterium is taken in through the mouth. Next thing, someone isn’t feeling too good.
Not always from food either – though around a third of us eat at our desks.
If ever you’re worried about who’s committed or not, just check out who’s on deck, munching a sarnie in their lunch break. The great British work ethic is stronger than you think. Not all sickies.
So no, it’s not the food – all those lunch places would go out of bizz if it was. It’s the hands that eat the food. Or more accurately – what’s on the hands that eat the food.
The hands have it
Because how many of those staffers washed their hands before tucking into their graze? Or if they have, what viruses and bacteria are skulking on their desks, waiting for them to touch as they eat?
From greasy fingers on keyboards, multiple hands on the phone, on pens or documents – or simply from the dust bunnies collecting behind everybody’s plasma screen?
And don’t forget, every one of us touches our face 2,000 – 3,000 times a day. Unconscious reflex, gateway for germs to enter through mouth, eyes and nose.
And not at all what everybody says about work acquired infections (WAIs) – picked up through the HVAC system, everybody breathing the same air.
That happens too of course, but not from ventilation. Every one of us trails around a germ cloud of trillions of bacteria, some good, some bad – but all intermingling in the common air spaces we share.
Most of them are harmless, but in flu season they’re not. While some don’t affect us personally, they clobber colleagues something terrible.
Hand-washing, the grudge habit
So what is it about people and not washing their hands? Everybody knows it’s necessary, yet most of us seldom do. Like around half of us don’t, even when we’ve just been to the loo.
No, we’re not in denial. It’s just not on the radar.
The same thing that drives people to work and eat at the same time makes them gloss over making their hands safe.
Not good if among them are your top performers – about to dial themselves out, just as that million-pound deal nudges up for them to close. Out of action at home at the critical moment – and all that business out the window.
OK, so get smart. Make it so they don’t have to leave their desks, but still their hands are safe.
You already provide loos and a washroom if they get caught during the day.
Everybody goes home, the cleaning team moves in – and finishes off misting up the place with ionised hydrogen peroxide. Forty minutes later, all germs are oxidised to nothing. The place is sterile and your staff are safe.
So are you.
Better still, there should be no more sickies.
Or if there are, they’re picked up outside.
You’ve protected your living assets, flexed your duty of care – and you’re well on the way to being the winning team you know you are.
OK, so you’re not going to eat. Spoil your dinner at that posh restaurant you’re going to when you land.
Spoil your dinner anyway if you touch that thing without wiping it down.
But just sitting there with your iPad means the backs of your hands are in contact. And you’re not going to believe it, the average person touches their face 3 to 5 times every waking minute – an unconscious reflex that all of us have.
So you may not ingest those germs from eating, they’ll get in anyway through your mouth or eye openings – you do it to yourself without knowing.
And what surprises can you expect to find?
Poo for a start. Those tray tables sometimes get used to change nappies. But poo anyway because so few people wash their hands after going to the loo. Which means high risk of everybody’s holiday favourite norovirus at the very least.
So it’s not just the tray table you’re going to wipe is it?
You’re going to do your hands too – probably more than once. Whenever you think about it. Whenever you touch something that could harbour germs.
And since it’s a few hours before you land, you’ll have time to reflect on the need to keep doing it when you get off the plane too.
That posh restaurant for example, your special reward for yourself. There’s other people there too, all dolled up to the nines like you.
Impressive, yes. But when did they last wash their hands?
Maybe they showered coming straight from the office. Or maybe they just togged up and ran. Don’t want to waste valuable drinking time – sorry, socialising time.
Except part of this place’s charm is self-service. Eat-as-much-as-you-like – smorgasbord, salad bar, you name it. And all those other people are touching the same serving spoons and forks that you are. You with your antiseptic-wiped hands, them straight in off the street.
Which is why you keep wipes on you all the time of course. You can’t always get to a washroom. And they wipe goo off your hands, which always seems to get on there when you don’t want it – something those antiseptic gels just can’t.
Worth it too – it only takes a few moments. And the food is every bit as amazing as you hoped it would be.
Those other folk from the plane are eating here too. Another getaway couple. Give them a wave. They’re not carrying wipes like you are, so that e.coli attack is going to mess up their whole time here.
All the time, always
Yup, now you’re thinking, it should be a life-time habit.
Come to that, the office should get a Hypersteriliser as well. So should this restaurant. Sterilise the place properly.
People walk around with 10 million viruses and bacteria on their hands most of the time – trailing a whole bio-cloud of several trillion others. Locked in here overnight, they’re just waiting for new victims to walk in tomorrow.
Because chances are, the pills will get taken but not do anything – predictable.
So half of them get chucked away in frustration.
But deep down in the gut, the normal bacteria that are supposed to be there are suddenly out of balance. Because right alongside them, some hooligan bad guy bacteria already on their way out are grabbing their chance to change and mutate.
To get meaner and nastier.
WAS treatable by antibiotics.
NOW antibiotic resistant.
Now multiply by the number of misuses of antibiotics that happen every day. Then multiply by the 650 TONNES of antibiotics that get used in agriculture ever year to keep food production running at 100 per cent.
Multiply by the days of the year, multiply by twenty-five – the number of years since the last antibiotic was invented in the lab. Lots of zeroes, right?
Lots of misadventure with every one.
But still nowhere near the 100 trillion bacteria EACH ONE OF US has colonised inside us.
Lots of opportunities to mutate, lots of resistance to develop.
What if antibiotics didn’t…?
So now one of us winds up in hospital because of an accident or because we need an operation. Surgical cuts, an incision for tubes – big worries about infection.
Because now, all of a sardine, MRSA pitches up – methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus.
Want to know how bad it is? The folks at University Hospital of South Manchester have a message for you.
Because, overnight, a whole stack of antibiotics won’t work.
And if you weren’t ever scared to death before about not washing your hands, it’s a good time to start now.
It’s the only defence otherwise.
Either that, or you’ll die.
But it’s not all antibiotics that don’t work, right? Surely not? Somewhere in the hospital’s line-up of wonder drugs, they’ve got to have a Get Out Of Jail Free card. They must.
Yeah, they probably do.
Except games with antibiotics are too easy to lose.
As fast as MRSA gets clobbered, Sod’s Law dictates the complication of c.difficile.
Nasty one this – clostridium difficile. A superbug like MRSA, but one that’s triggered by taking TOO MANY antibiotics.
Ever get the feeling we’re being warned NOT to do something?
We’re not doctors – so how the hell do we know what kind of medication we might need for something or not?
And we’re such cry-babies.
Always a pill for something, never a natural cure.
Time to get real
Which kinda means antibiotic resistance is Nature’s way of telling us to leave well alone.
Got a hangover? Go home and sleep it off. Got flu? Same thing – with plenty of liquids. And whenever you do something, wash your hands afterwards.
Because most of the time, unless the Doc tells you otherwise, you need antibiotics like you need a hole in the head.
As soon as temperatures begin to dip, people start coming down with nasopharyngitis.
That’s the egghead’s name for the common cold – more familiar to us as a pain in the neck.
Wait, that’s not it either. Colds are commonly caused by rhinovirus. “Rhino” means nose, see – like that Flanders & Swann thing, “the bodger on the bonce” – which is where colds commonly affect us.
A piece of work, this rhinovirus. And like a rhinoceros itself, bad tempered and dangerous – probably because it’s so small, only 20 nanometres across (0.000002 millimetres).
At that size, it’s small enough to drop right through a roofing tile – if it had any weight.
Except being microscopically smaller than a piece of dust, it’s lighter than the air around it – all those molecules of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and all the other “gens” – plus all the pollution and dirt and other microbes hanging around there – you know, the stuff we breath in every few seconds.
It’s also not our only cause of catching a cold, just the most common – sharing its notoriety with around 200 other viruses, so no wonder it has a mean streak. A real full-blown Napoleon complex.
A real health hazard
Maybe your experience is just the runny nose, sneezing – and if you’re unlucky, the whole sore throat thing. Three days and you’re out of it, if the gods are smiling.
Trouble is, so many of us are not always 100% well. So that when rhinovirus strikes, it often triggers worsening of any underlying condition.
And that’s the dangerous bit – inner ear infections, sinusitis, asthma attacks, worsening COPD, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis and bronchitis. Not a thing to be played with.
Why does it strike in winter or when the body gets cold? Get drenched in the rain, even in summer, and your Mum screams, “get out of those wet things, you’ll catch your death.”
She’s right. Because rhinovirus thrives best at slightly below normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit – coolest in the nose, where cold winter air is breathed in and taken down to the lungs, another favourite rhino hangout. It literally likes to chill.
There’s also method in its being so small. It rides the air, spreading more easily. And as we all know, it’s highly contagious. Just one sneeze or cough from the gent with the rolled-up umbrella on the Victoria Line – and it’s the boiled knitting head, calling in a sickie at 7.00 o’clock next morning.
But it’s not just the air. Rhinovirus spreads on contact with almost anything, the things we touch that transfer it to others – everyday fomites like coffee cups, knives and forks, the soap in the soap dish and even the towels we dry off with.
Dodgy this, because rhinovirus likes to get in mainly through the nose and mouth – and in addition to fomites, we touch our faces maybe 2,000 – 3,000 times a day. Airborne or by touch, if anybody around us has a cold, chances are high we’re going to get it. A real headache.
But we do have a defence. We might be touching infected objects without knowing it, but we can always wash our hands clean afterwards.
Doing it properly, working at it seriously with soap and water gets rid of 99.9% of most germs – what medics recognise as Sterility Assurance Level Log 1 – the most important step in safe hygiene. (The highest is Log 6 – like you get with a Hypersteriliser).
And it’s not just washing – it’s doing it constantly. Every sneeze, every face wipe, is a chance to pass it on to somebody else – you need to wash it off.
It’s likewise in avoiding a cold – particularly in winter when so many people have them. It just pays to wash your hands around anything they might have touched.
Wash, or wipe
Not exactly practical though, walking down the street or jumping on the bus – so a good back-up is to keep a pack of sanitising hand wipes on you at all times.
Nobody wants a cold, especially if you’re feeling slightly off with something else already. It’ll only make it worse, or turn into a full-grown attack.
And though we don’t actually think of the common cold as a killer, around 40,000 people die every year from a combination of colds, flu and low temperatures. Yup, we need to be careful.
Your stylish office workstation, finished in beech.
With the go-getter image top performers like you deserve. Plus the company iPad.
And every bit as dangerous as a bullet to the head.
Because it looks all nice and neat now. But what happens at lunch time?
Too busy to stop, huh?
So did you brown-bag a sandwich, or pop down to the greasy spoon?
Not good, eating at the keyboard. Your mobile germ transporter. OK on the first day, but very quickly home to more than 7,500 bacteria – on a desk that could be harbouring 10 million more. 400 times the health hazard of an average toilet seat.
Which means, if you get even a minor skin break – a paper cut, or a stapler stab – you could wind up with a major infection.
Because your desk never really gets cleaned, does it?
The swamp-out team come in every night – to vacuum the floors and empty the waste baskets. If you’re lucky, all your desk gets is a wipe with a damp cloth. The same damp cloth as all the other desks. Really just a germ transfer from one to the next.
And that’s usually it.
Nothing behind your in-trays or any stacks of documents you might have – they don’t want to mix up important papers – or cause them to go missing.
So the dust bunnies are all still at the back there – along with biscuit crumbs from your morning coffee – and the odd chip from the fries that went with your burger. Oh, and bits of last week’s chicken coronation sandwich – and the bacon butty everybody had after the power-breakfast workshop session
All kinds of nasty goodies living in there – multiplying every day. Flu germs, norovirus, e.coli and you don’t want to know what else. Even MRSA, the one hospitals dread because antibiotics don’t work against it. There’s lots of bugs like that these days – causing doctors to tear their hair out.
And have you ever heard of sepsis? There’s no resistance against that either, like all kinds of different germs, all at the same time.
Because that paper cut could very easily fester if it gets infected.
And everywhere your hands rest on your desk there are likely to be more germs. Any one of which could trigger sepsis and then you’re really in trouble – a meltdown of your body’s immune system that claims 37,000 lives a year in Europe – more than those killed in road accidents.
Every night when you go home, it mists up the whole office space with a deep-penetrating hydrogen peroxide plasma – a kind of electrically-charged super-gas. Stuff that actively grabs viruses and bacteria out of the air, and oxidises them to oblivion.
By morning, when you come in, the whole place is sterile. No germs, nothing – you and your colleagues are completely safe.
So is your desk. After the wipe-down, the hydrogen peroxide takes out every microorganism that might be hiding there. From 10 million germs to 0 – even if you don’t properly clean your keyboard or phone.
Still not a good idea to keep eating lunch there though. You need to get out more, get some fresh air, take a break, let your mind reset while you get some exercise, feel some of the wonderful world out there.
You’re a top performer, right? And you need to keep that mind sharp and stimulated.
Not because they need them, but because they think they do. For a cough or a cold. Ailments that antibiotics were never meant to cure. Self-prescription gone mad – and doctors strong-armed into making it happen.
Probably the most dangerous thing anybody ever did. Doting Mums, worried Dads – playing with fire that will come back to burn all of us before the decade is out.
Because antibiotics are NOT the cure-all that everybody thinks they are.
Not any more – and never for situations they weren’t designed for.
You see, using them for everything has blunted their edge.
So many bacteria have developed immunity to them, they’re powerless and useless. And viruses were always resistant to them anyway.
Which means the next time any of us goes for surgery or needs attention after an accident – it won’t be drugs fighting the infection.
First cut is the deepest
It will be surgeons, cutting bits out to improve our survival. Chopping and slicing in the only defence left to us. The only alternative when antibiotics don’t work.
Not nice, eh?
Loosing an arm or a leg because germs got in. Or half a lung, all of your stomach – and just how easy will your life be then? Forget playing the violin again – you could be a basket case.
Which is where all our clamouring for antibiotics is going to get us if we don’t pack it in.
MRSA – methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus – is already a major infection headache for hospitals everywhere. There are many others, and increasing everyday. Soon none of our repertoire of antibiotics will have any effect at all.
All because the wonder-drugs of fifty years ago are now used everywhere on an industrial scale. Agriculture alone uses near 500 TONNES a year – no wonder they’re over-used!
Talked to the staff at your local school recently?
Beyond the polite smiles and friendly greeting. Beyond the usual about how your child is doing. Down to the real stuff about what’s actually going on.
The sordid side
Like the disaster of meal times.
No, it’s not anything about the food or how it’s served. In most places that’s pretty good and the dinner ladies know what they’re doing.
It’s the kids themselves. Their manners.
Not just some of them, more like ALL – yours included. Right through junior school and all the way to Sixth Form.
Peer group pressure and all that.
What’s a knife? What’s a fork?
Because none of them seem to know about knives and forks.
Half of them don’t even pick them up and put them on their lunch tray.
Uh huh. Spot the missing life skill – or why they’ll never get invited to Buckingham Palace.
Well, you try it. How are you going to eat your pasta with tomato sauce when you sit down? Or your chicken roast with gravy and vegetables?
No, it’s not like eating Indian food – where eating with your fingers is the cultural thing.
This is the full-on horrific kids catastrophe – greasy fingers, dribbled clothing, smears of sauce around their mouths.
Horrific, but it’s true.
Check it out with the teachers who do lunch hall duty.
It’s not a one-off, these kids do it regularly. They never seem to think otherwise.
Which boggles the mind about whether they washed their hands beforehand. Or at all.
Because there’s plenty of evidence they don’t do it afterwards. Stains on exercise books, blotches on clothing, faces like make-up sessions gone wrong.
Handle it, THIS IS THE NORM!
No manners makes monsters
Ask why, and the teachers will tell you. Either the family never eats at table. Or meals at home are always convenience eating. A sandwich at the computer. Chicken nuggets and chips in front of the TV.
Just check the greasy marks on light switches, door handles, keyboards and remotes!
That’s the evidence, right there.
Nobody’s washing their hands. Probably not before – and certainly not after. And don’t even think about when they go to the toilet.
So if your little Princess comes home with a tummy ache, or cramps, or spends half the night on the loo – yes, it’s the school’s fault.
Not because hygiene standards in the place are lax. But because the kids themselves don’t have any. And nobody’s allowed to come down heavy, insisting on basic minimum cleanliness.
Political correctness and all that – teachers are gagged. Even sharp voices can get them fired – no matter how far these embryo delinquents push the envelope.
Whatever happened to the principle that rights have to be earned?
Yup, we’ve brought it on ourselves.
First with our own lack of discipline. Second with our increasingly crazy lifestyle.
Our whole fast-food, always-on-the-go culture. Meals gobbled on the fly, usually in a rush, with never a thought about soap and water. Everyone grows up and 95% of us still have no clue how to wash our hands properly.
Hello, norovirus – the vomit-comet wonderbug! Over and over again.
No wonder it’s all over the place – fear of soap and water.
Oh yes, you can betcha. If the kids bring gastro-whatever into the house, everybody’s going to get it, including you. They’re not washing their hands at school, so what’s different at home?
Because too many of us default on inculcating life skills. Cop out of being parents. Duck out of responsibilities. Feeding the myth that kids are in school because it’s a crèche – child-minding while we go to the mall, or rush off to the office.
Sad, totally sad.
So you’re going to come down with the tummy cramps and diarrhoea upchuck – so is everybody at work because norovirus takes three days to show itself. Three days of unsuspecting innocence until all hell breaks loose – or more accurately, all poo breaks loose.
Nauseating, isn’t it?
And how can we be so sure it’ll be norovirus?
It’s more common than the common cold, highly contagious, and never loses an opportunity to exploit sloppy hygiene.
All from dirty hands. Two minutes with soap and water – the same time it takes to brush your teeth. (You mean the kids don’t do that either!)
OK, back to earth. Want to stay well?
You’re safe enough – as long as your kids mind their Ps and Qs.
Scary pictures of medics like spacemen. Panic headlines about killer diseases – Ebola, MERS and Lassa fever.
How safe are we? Are we all going to die?
Scrub, swab, rinse
Out with the bucket and sponge, heavy on the bleach. Don’t let those killers get to us.
They can’t can they?
Except, all those masks and overalls…
Maybe our wipe-clean disinfecting doesn’t go far enough. Shouldn’t we do more? We’re safe enough here in the UK, but what about flu and norovirus – aren’t they contagious and airborne too?
Which brings us to how to protect ourselves.
Fumigation. Like they do for rats and cockroaches. The whole house shrouded in plastic, everybody out for a week. A bit radical though, isn’t it? Like we can’t do it every week.
So how about the alternatives?
There are a lot of good ones.
Cheapest and quickest is a disinfecting aerosol “bomb”. Disinfecting, not sterilising, but it does clobber most of any germs present – airborne and surface.
Shut the windows and doors, put the aerosol in the middle of the room, hit the button – and leave. An aerosol fog of ammonium chloride is released, filling the room like bathroom steam. Any viruses or bacteria are oxidised to nothing. Twenty minutes and you’re done.
Sort of. Because – heavier than air – the fog can’t get everywhere. Nor can it reach into crevices and corners. It does a “general ” disinfect but that’s it.
There could still be germs lurking in the shadows – and probably are. There’s nothing to get the stuff under things or behind them. But hey, it leaves a nice fresh smell – so at least you’re safer than you were.
Ultra violet, ultra effective
More serious are the “zappers”. Impressive pieces of kit that generate ultraviolet light. UV is deadly to viruses and bacteria, destroying their DNA. Just a few seconds of exposure and boom – they’re gone.
These sterilisers are not small – about the size of an office photocopier – and just as unwieldy. OK to move around in the same room, but a bit of a mission to trundle round a whole building.
Satisfyingly high-tech though.
Programmable to select room size, radiation dose and duration – with remote control so they can be operated from outside. You don’t want to be present when those UV rays start bombarding – not good for the body, or soul.
Very effective though. Done in five minutes. All surfaces, and the air too.
Which means for a room with high turnover, a dental surgery say, it’s a quick way to blitz an operating room between patients straight in off the street. Familiar territory for dentists too, they’re already used to vacating the place while they take X-rays.
There is a downside though.
Like all light, UV rays only work on line of sight. Anything the light generator cannot “see” is not exposed. Germs breeding in that location are not destroyed.
Which means the back side of objects, the sides that face away from the machine. Behind the beds, the desks, the cupboards, the chairs. Half the job.
In bigger rooms there’s a fall-off effect too. The further away from the light, the weaker the exposure. Germs can survive to infect another day.
Both problems can be reduced by re-siting the machine, and blitzing the room again. A bit of a schlep, but it gets the job done. And way more pleasant than slopping around with bleach.
Google it every which way, you’ll find it by far the most effective at destroying germs by oxidising them. Which is why so many hospitals have these sterilisers in operation – misting the place up with hydrogen peroxide vapour is a sure way to preserve patient safety.
By any standards, hydrogen peroxide is THE BUSINESS in nailing viruses and bacteria. Contact with germs kills 99.9999% of them – down to one germ in a million, hardly measurable below that – a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6.
But, like the zappers, there’s a downside.
To be effective – that means its kill strength – the hydrogen peroxide has to be a 12% solution, pretty potent and not exactly friendly to human metabolisms. The stuff is hazardous to handle.
Everything wet, wet, wet
It’s also wet, wet, wet – basically a dosed water vapour sprayed into the air, very much like low temperature steam. It spreads, does its job, and slowly sinks back down, leaving a layer of condensation all over everything.
For this reason there’s not just one machine but two – both about the size of an office photocopier. One to spread the stuff, the other to dry the place out afterwards. So everything is not just wet, it gets heated up too. A bit hairy on sensitive equipment, particularly anything electrical.
Nor does the heavier-than-air hydrogen peroxide spread everywhere, either. Like ammonium chloride, it can’t reach all the nooks and crannies. It doesn’t behind or under everything either. Like the steam in your bathroom, it just swirls around.
You might have a Log 6 kill rate, but the job’s not all done. Not in the darkened corners – risky with MRSA and other resistant microorganisms floating around.
And float they do. Most germs are so tiny, they could fall right through a piece of blotting paper. Except they’re lighter than air and too small to see, so they could float around for ever, maybe NEVER falling all the way to the floor.
So it’s swings and roundabouts. Plus you need a hefty bloke to manhandle these HP sterilisers around.
Which is where the super-whammies come in – machines that generate ionised hydrogen peroxide. (iHP).
Super technology too. Developed from the military, the first of these uses multiple spray heads mounted on tripods. Flexible tubes feed the hydrogen peroxide solution from a central spray reservoir, carefully metered by a control unit.
In the actual spray head, a whopping great arc of high voltage electricity ionises the hydrogen peroxide molecules, giving them each the same negative charge.
OK, remember your school physics? Like charges repel, right? And unlike charges attract.
So these ionised hydrogen peroxide molecules exit the spray nozzle at speed, vigorously and actively trying to get away from each other – going seriously crazy.
Result, the hydrogen peroxide disperses faster, further, wider, longer. It gets into things, behind them, under and over. And it presses deep into cracks and crevices, still trying to get away from its brothers. Ain’t no germs going to get away from that.
There’s another dimension too, quite literally.
Ionising the hydrogen peroxide changes its state from a vapour or gas – to a dynamically different plasma – the fourth state of matter.
Whammo! It’s not like vapour any more – and a whole load of other germ killers get released too. Reactive oxygen species from the hydrogen peroxide itself of course – plus hydroxyl radicals, ozone – itself a super-powerful oxidiser, and ultraviolet – the same stuff used in the zappers.
It gets better. Because all these negatively charged particles actively hunt – and actually reach out and grab – positively charged viruses and bacteria.
World War Three in microcosm – no more nasties of any kind. They are the departed.
And there’s an even better super-whammy machine too.
Because it’s a whole mission setting up all those spray-heads on tripods and a bit clunky, this jobbie is an all-in-one mobile unit. And yes, we do have a vested interest in it because it’s simply the best there is – the Hypersteriliser.
Straight off, you can see some thought’s gone into it.
No fiddly castors you can never steer, like a supermarket trolley – this thing’s got big wheels like a wheelie-bin but bigger, so you can get it up and down steps without giving yourself a hernia.
It’s all integrated too. You just dial up the dosage according to room-size and the machine calculates the rest. Press one button, leave the room and 60 seconds later the fine-mist spray begins, ionised just as it leaves the nozzle.
Which highlights another plus. Ionising makes the hydrogen peroxide more effective – as we’ve seen with the other machine, releasing other high-powered germ killers. This action allows a weaker solution – 6% instead of 12% – safer to use, and able to dissipate smaller and finer.
The silver edge
This plus performance plasma also packs another punch. It includes colloidal silver, a centuries-old germ-fighter first used by the ancient Greeks.
OK, give it twenty minutes.
As the plasma destroys germs, it loses its charge and reverts to harmless water and oxygen. It also evaporates, drying before it touches anything.
That makes it safe for computer keyboards and sensitive connections – and leaves a microscopically thin veneer of silver as an antimicrobial protection barrier on every surface. Lasting protection for up to weeks.
Is there a downside?
There always is, isn’t there?
As yet, they don’t make a rechargeable battery-powered model, so you can’t take it out into a busy transport yard to do trucks, containers, or buses and trains, without trailing a long mains lead.
The same with aircraft of course – though it’s way more effective than systems requiring several truckloads of kit for the same job.
Hiking up our hygiene
Whew! It’s been quite a haul getting here – and there’s no doubt which of these options we favour. But just remember, they’re all good – and anything that reduces the germ threshold is a step in the right direction.
The more protection we can give each other – particularly in the dense and vulnerable groups modern living seems to need – schools, hotels, offices, restaurants, cruise liners, you name it, the safer everyone can be.
Just think of it – no more norovirus, no more flu.
It won’t happen of course, because to do that, we’ve ALL got to remember to wash our hands all the time.