Category Archives: Oh Really?

Air fresheners fix pong, but seldom what’s wrong

Girl holding nose
Your nose tells you there’s danger – and there is. GERMS!

Remember that thing they tag onto radio and TV adverts?

“Always read the label.”

Kinda important if you’re looking at an air freshener.

Because unless it actually includes a germ killer like ethanol or hydrogen peroxide, it does nothing to clobber the CAUSE of bad smells, it only MASKS them.

Mine’s bigger than yours

Or as Melissa Maker reveals in her YouTube video on The Truth About Air Fresheners – it doesn’t deodorise, it reoderises. Blanking out bad smells by overpowering them with an even stronger one.

Out-ponging the pong.

Kinda crazy, don’t you think?

Because the thing that’s making the smell is still there. Still pumping out the stink. Still sending us messages that something is off.

And you know why it stinks?

Bacteria are busy with it. Breaking it down by eating it. Fermenting it, if it’s vegetable. Putrefying it, if it’s animal. Neither of them nice. Ew!

And only fixable by stopping the bacteria.

Either by removing them – like chucking those smelly socks in the bin. Or destroying them altogether. Not something your average room freshener is going to do.

Why stuff smells

Besides, stuff smells bad because it’s meant to be a warning. We’re programmed to recognise smells like poo stink and avoid them. So we don’t get infected with nasty diseases.

Which kinda means air fresheners are letting you put yourself in danger. You don’t see the red light, so the late-running double-decker bus T-bones into you.

And how about the actual smells you’re trying to neutralise – excuse us, reodorise?

How powerful do the replacement pong generators have to be to overpower them? Pretty potent, right?

You wanna bet. These things work by overkill. By being bigger and badder than the original stink.

Stronger.

Unexpected price-tag

You might take the nasty smells away – but be prepared for headaches, depression and wheezing breath, especially with kids. Reactions like asthma and lung infections are common.

Yet altogether we spend £400 million a year on these smell-making de-stinkers. Anywhere from £1 a pop to £7 and up. All blown on candles, plug-ins, incense and aerosols that do nothing but pong themselves – not making us any safer or healthier.

Totally nuts.

Oh sure, chuck it in the bin, if you can find it. But you might have to rip up your carpet, or repaint the place to do it. All kinds of things can generate unpleasant smells – it’s not always a dead rat behind the skirting board.

And OK, so it’s in the bin. It keeps on stinking until they take it away. You can’t go outside – and your lounge still lingers with residual smell.

Uh huh.

But if bacteria get clobbered dead in their tracks, there’s no smell at all. Zero, zip, nada.

Bye, bye germs

And you can oxidise ALL virus and bacteria in a room completely to nothing for around £3.50. No smells, no germs. Totally non-toxic protection from bugs like e.coli, salmonella, c. difficile, campylobacter, MRSA, colds, flu and norovirus.

How many apple blossom scented mango sprays can do that?

OK, it might cost a few bob to get the machine. About the same as putting in central heating and double glazing all in one hit. Not something for every household. But do you want to stop smells or get rid of germs?

The ball game changes when you think of work or school – or even eating out. All those people, all in one place – sharing the same air, touching the same surfaces. Protected from germs because there aren’t any there.

A clever machine called a Hypersteriliser has misted up the place before you arrived, filling the place with hydrogen peroxide gas plasma.

This is no quick whizz with an aerosol.

Oxidised to nothing

The entire place is impregnated with charged germ-killing molecules that reach out and grab viruses and bacteria wherever they are. Because they’re ionised, these hydrogen peroxide molecules permeate whole air spaces and cover all surfaces, forced actively into difficult-to-get-at cracks and crevices.

Result – after about forty minutes, the whole place is sterile. There’s no smell at all. The germ threshold is zero. The pong that’s wrong is gone.

Yes, an air freshener is quick and easy. SOME of them even do kill germs.

But they don’t sterilise the place. And they don’t reach everywhere.

Bad smells mean danger – and yeah, apple blossom is nice.

Just remember though, there are germs at work – and the job’s not done till they’re gone.

Yes, we NEED germs – but only in the right place

Girl with glow
With germs, the impossible could be closer than we think

Start with the mirror.

You think that’s you, don’t you?

Well y-e-s, but not entirely.

In fact, far from entirely.

Because our own human body cells are outnumbered by bacteria more than 100 to 1. Every one of them living inside us and actually helping us live. If they weren’t there, we wouldn’t survive.

Not who we think we are

Surprised?

Yeah well, the entire world’s like that. Every living thing is home to whole hosts of bacteria essential to existence. Which makes bacteria way more important than most of us ever think. We’re not infected with them, we’re colonised by them.

So our paranoia about destroying them is most unwise.

Uh huh.

Think again

So how come this blog is called Back Off, Bacteria? Isn’t that about getting rid of microorganisms?

Far from it.

Reality Number One. Bacteria are vitally necessary for every living function.

But not ALL bacteria are appropriate in every situation.

Campylobacter for instance, occurs naturally in poultry – 75% of chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and wild birds have it in their gut. Somehow it helps in the digestion of whatever they eat – processing the grit perhaps, or balancing natural sugars.

In humans however, campylobacter is highly pathogenic – the most common cause of food poisoning. In the UK alone, 300,000 people die from it every year.

OK, you can see the connection. Chicken is a highly popular source of cheap protein – so the whole food industry is up in arms about the contamination of our top of the pops menu choice.

Contamination, schm-ontamination.

It occurs naturally in birds, right? It’s SUPPOSED to be there.

So what’s the problem?

Everybody, the Food Safety Agency, producers, supermarkets, chefs, restaurants – all know that if you cook chicken properly, all campylobacter is destroyed. Those wings, drumsticks and nuggets are totally safe to eat.

And again

So, Reality Number Two. Bacteria are only beneficial when they’re in the right place.

Which is why this blog is called Back Off, Bacteria!

Back Off, Bacteria! Get back to where you belong.

There are over 500 microbe types that colonise our gut – bacteriods, peptococci, staphylococci, streptococci, bacilli, clostridia, yeasts, enterobacteria, fuzobacteria, eubacteria, catenobacteria, etc – we don’t need a rogue outsider coming in and upsetting the apple cart.

As long as a bacterium is in the right place, that’s OK.

But the wrong place needs action if you don’t want to sicken and die.

Which is why – first line of defence – you should wash your hands so you don’t ingest some harmful killer bug you can’t see.

And second – you should sterilise your surrounding environment so any other dangerous pathogens can’t invade you any other way.

Out of sight, out of mind

No, it’s not rocket science. But since viruses and bacteria are too small to see, they’re just not on anybody’s radar. Nobody sees any danger, so there isn’t any.

Mistake. The wrong bacterium in the wrong place can kill you as efficiently as any bullet. And just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there – how about cholera, tetanus or TB?

So back to earth. Bacteria are simple, not second-guessing the whole universe all the time like we do.

All they do is eat. And when they can’t find the right food, they eat us – which is what infection is.

They’re also programmed to survive, just like we are. Except they work in minutes and hours, not decades. And they’ve been around for billions of years longer so they’re a hell of a lot better at it.

If one cell dies off, its offspring will carry on. And on, and on, and on – more persistently than we humans ever even get close to.

And you’d better believe it, since they outnumber our own body cells more than 100 to 1, they’re the ones calling the shots, not us.

Who’s the boss?

Think it’s your brain telling the body what to do?

Where do you think we get gut feel from, or the physical symptoms that are triggered by stress?

Butterflies in your tummy? The bacteria are apprehensive, they want to survive. They’re warning you. Don’t do whatever you’re planning to do because there’s danger or unpleasantness ahead.

Yeah, your brain can override them, but at what cost? Acid tummy, shaking muscles, nerves shot to pieces. These guys know which strings to pull – and they do.

Again, Back Off, Bacteria – we’ve got other priorities to satisfy. Like getting through that interview, or proposing to your sweetheart – not all going into combat, or jumping off a cliff.

Magical powers

Bacteria may even have “magic” qualities that makes us think of the supernatural.

As regular readers of this blog will know, bacteria carry a tiny electrical charge positive on the outside, negative on the inside.

It’s this charge that enables negatively-charged ionised hydrogen peroxide molecules to latch onto them only the fly – oxidising them to oblivion in one of the most efficient room sterilising procedures ever.

Researchers have also found that the electrical charge in bacteria like e. coli can actually generate light – creating flashes like Christmas tree lights.

Put that together with the fact that we’re always surrounded by a “bio-cloud” of billions and billions of bacteria all the time – and it’s possible that under the right conditions we really do generate a visible aura.

Better still, as bacteria respond to our changing body conditions, the electrical charge they put out could vary, changing the actual colour of this aura. Maybe not a myth any more, but genuine reality.  All those child prodigies, swamis and spiritual mediums might have been right all along.

So yeah – germs, we need ’em.

Let’s just make sure we keep them in a safe place.

You’re actually suing the cruise line for norovirus? Seriously?

Doubtful doctor
Norovirus? Most of us are so careless, we give it to ourselves

You might just want to re-think that.

Because you know it’s a virus, don’t you?

Like a common cold – and just as easy to catch. Just as common too.

You even catch it the same way. No, not by breathing – by contact.

Spread by touch

Not necessarily from someone who’s got it either. But by touching anything with germs on it that might give it to you.

Like door handles, hand rails, ATM keypads, mobiles, vending machines, PDQ card machines, access panels, serving tongs, self-service coffee flasks, turnstiles, keys, light switches, pens, shopping baskets, clothing racks, jewellery trays, salt & pepper shakers, menus, table mats, audio guides, poker chips, playing cards, billiard cues, bowling balls… you get the picture.

All fomites – the things we touch, that other people touch, that transmit germs. And our faces too – like 3,000 times a day.

Uh, huh. So it’s on your hands, right?

And when did you last wash your hands before getting on the boat?

So that you washed off whatever might have contaminated you before you touched your eyes, your nose or your mouth – the usual way that germs enter your body.

Or after using the loo?

Uncomfortable facts

Because 62% of men and 40% of women NEVER wash their hands after going to the toilet.

Is that you?

And even if you did, 95% of people don’t wash their hands properly.

Is that you too?

How about that only 12% of people wash their hands before eating?

If you can honestly say that you washed you hands after touching all of these things – and after going to the loo – as well as before you ate anything – you might just have a case.

But we don’t just mean before you boarded the ship. We mean EVER.

Because norovirus takes anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to show itself.

So unless you can guarantee that you washed your hands before you ate anything, or touched your face for the two days before you got on the boat – AND kept them washed while you were on board – AND made sure they were washed during your shore excursions – you’re telling porkies.

Who’s really to blame

Sure it’s not nice when the cruise you paid all that money for is cut short with norovirus. But that’s not necessarily the cruise line’s fault – in fact it seldom is. Wash Hands Logo

You got it, most cases of norovirus are caused by the victims themselves. That’s why we call it the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease – and if anyone should take blame, it’s the person in the mirror.

We’re all too slap-happy, aren’t we? All too used to this casual lifestyle that allows us to get away with pretty well anything – including liberties with our health.

We could avoid the common cold too, if we washed our hands more often. OK, we could get sneezed at, but that’s not how most of us catch it. So we pay for our dirty hands with germy misery.

Lengthening the odds

Which means if you’re suing the cruise line, that it’s not just you that has to take precautions against norovirus. It’s your 1,350 fellow passengers as well – double that, if you’re on one of the big jobs.

1,350 people who can genuinely promise that they washed their hands carefully at the right times for the two days before embarking – and the whole duration that you were on the water.

You’re all together, see? Literally in the same boat – lots and lots of you sharing the same enclosed space, almost on top of each other – in close contact for weeks, or even months. A travelling hygiene hotspot if ever there was one.

Which makes it amazing that cruise lines are so successful at keeping illnesses away as much as they do. Out of hundreds of cruises every year, carrying upwards of 20 million passengers, only a handful run into norovirus or other illnesses – less than 1%.

Meanwhile, back here in UK, we’re still waiting for the sun to shine.

Atishoo!

You still sure you want to sue those guys?

Nobody eats raw chicken, so why the problems?

Girl shrugs shoulders
If all birds have the bug and cooking
kills it, they’re all safe to eat, right?

280,000 problems to be exact.

That’s the number of people who come down with campylobacter in a year – a really yucky stomach upset that makes you super-queasy, gives you the runs, and triggers some of the worst cramps you’ve ever experienced.

UK’s biggest villain

According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA ), campylobacter is far and away the UK’s biggest cause of food poisoning. Worse than its nasty friends norovirus, salmonella and e.coli – all horrible bugs that you get from eating something.

That means chicken if you’re unfortunate enough to catch campylobacter. An unpleasant stomach upset that can take you out for three days, even cause paralysis and death.

And the FSA is right to jump up and down about it.

Around 75% of poultry has it – chickens, turkeys, a lot of other animals too. It lives naturally in their gut without harm, probably even helping with digestion – like lactobacillus does in our own systems.

Trouble is, our metabolisms are quite different to chickens. What’s good for you goose is not good for you gander – once campylobacter gets loose in your digestive system, you’re in for a roller-coaster tough time.

Uh huh. So if if 75% of poultry has it, why don’t we crash out with campylobacter all the time?

The heat is on

Because, lucky us, all traces of campylobacter are completely destroyed by cooking. (Tweet this) Once the meat is no longer pink and the juices run clear, that chicken is safe to eat for everyone.

Kinda vital when you remember that chicken is one of our least expensive and popular foods – in everything from fast food to posh nosh.

But this campylobacter stuff is a mean player. It’s highly contagious, and just one drop of moisture or juices from a contaminated bird is enough to bring down a whole restaurant.

Which is why the FSA is continually jumping up and down about NOT washing raw chicken. The water you use and the splashes it makes are all contaminated.

So are utensils you might use – chopping boards and work surfaces too – which is why washing them down thoroughly is essential.

Hand hygiene

Your hands too, of course.

We’re none of us as sharp as we should be with hand hygiene, and forgetting to wash probably causes more illnesses throughout the country than anything else. Campylobacter alone costs us around £900 million a year in NHS treatment and lost productivity.

OK, so don’t wash raw chicken. Don’t eat it either. Common sense really. Like don’t eat unshelled seafood or unpeeled fruit – doing that will make you sick too.

Even so, a lot of people keep getting sick – so the FSA also jump up and down about controlling poultry production and why don’t supermarkets insist on only trouble-free birds?

Er, excuse us – totally, utterly wrong.

Blame the packaging

75% of all birds – we’re talking 2.2 million birds a week here. That’s how many we eat – more popular than fish and chips. Chicken tikka masala, right?

Culling that lot and starting again would bankrupt the industry – and push shopping budgets through the roof.

The nation’s Number One popular food suddenly at premium prices – they’ll have your guts for garters, mate!

Much more sense to target the packaging. Easier to control too.

Walk into Aldi, and you’ll see whole chickens have the label DON’T WASH RAW CHICKEN. That’s a good start. Add a warning that it must also be properly cooked and we’re getting somewhere.

But walk into ANY supermarket and just look the packaging. Most of the time, its shrink-wrapped onto a styrene tray, not even vacuum-sealed. Not good, Jim.

Distributed like that, any liquids from the product can leak. Onto others in the refrigerated lorry. Onto others in the display cabinets. Onto others in your fridge at home.

And one drop is all it takes – wow, wow, wow, campylobacter for the whole family.

Not from the chicken, which was properly cooked and enjoyed. But from the splash of liquid that fell onto the fresh tomatoes you had in the vegetable drawer underneath.

A bad dose of that and they’ll have to pump your stomach at A&E.

An un-problem really

Properly cooked, chicken is not a problem – look at KFC.  The same sourced chicken as all other supermarkets in UK, and campylobacter doesn’t happen.

So most birds have campylobacter, get over it.

And even if you could isolate the “clean” ones, how are you going to prevent contamination from others – cull all the robins and sparrows and blackbirds too?

Insist on sealed, leak-proof packaging and the problem goes away.

Nobody eats raw chicken. Period.

Which brings the real problem right back to washing hands and everything you use to prep the food with.

Clean or else

They should make it a law – wash everything properly, or you could die.

Hey, wait a minute, that’s already true!

One chance too many and out we go, feet first.

We have been warned.

Galloping lurgy – from germs that ride in the rain

Running from rain
You can run,
but bacteria are everywhere

Rain is wet and wonderful, right?

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

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

Or not.

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

Another step towards certain doom.

A bit otherwise, that.

A drop of the real stuff

In Oz, rainwater runs off the roof into tanks.

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

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

Except something happens when it’s chucking it down.

That tangy smell you get from fresh rain?

Champagne aroma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Splash, splatter, splat

It gets messier with plants.

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

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

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

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

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

OK, so you like splashing round in the rain.

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

Better be careful, like grandmother says.

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