Norovirus: why frantic $40K cleanup could still come unstuck

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Anxious businesswoman
It’s not just the cost, norovirus can kill a business reputation stone-cold dead

You don’t take chances with norovirus.

Very unpleasant – and very bad for business – it has a boomerang property that keeps it coming back and back, whatever anyone does.

Boomerang in Kansas?

Which may soon be the experience of the popular New Theatre Restaurant in Kansas City. With 400 people down with norovirus last week, but determined to stay open, they’ve had hit-teams spray the place with a “Lysol-like” disinfectant – the same kind of stuff used on cruise liners – and boldly kept on going. Comedy performances of Out of Order starring Gary Sandy of WKRP in Cincinnati fame are to continue uninterrupted.

Let’s hope they’re not too hasty.

Norovirus is a nasty not to be wished on anyone. Cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea – up to four days and more, feeling like the end of the world.

Violent and explosive vomiting is one reason why a Lysol-type spray (similar to Dettol aerosol) may not be enough. It’s one of the ways the virus ensures it spreads as wide as possible. You’re not just being sick, you’re rocketing out your guts further and farther than with any other upchuck.

So if that spray doesn’t reach into every little nook and cranny, norovirus can be back in full raging force just hours later.

Virulent and vindictive

Norovirus is more contagious than other viruses too – 1,000 times more potent than everyday winter flu. All it takes is 10 tiny particles (around 2 microns in size) to become infected – and one particle can contain 100,000,000,000 particles.

But that’s not the only reason New Theatre Restaurant might still be in trouble. The spray they’ve used is water-based, hose-piping around trying to cover all areas. It’s potency is 99.9% effective – a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 3.

Not really good enough.

Water-based vapour starts falling to the floor as soon as it’s dispersed. It never reaches ceilings or walls, the water drops are too heavy. And with a potency of just 10 particles needed to start an infection, 99.9% efficiency might work for an hour or two – then it’s back to square one.

Meanwhile, the super-light particles of norovirus float easily around on the smallest wafts of air – smaller and lighter than the molecules around them – lighter than nitrogen and hydrogen (once used to lift airships), tinier than dust, wispier than smoke, so almost nothing they may never fall to the floor, ever.

Yeah, it infects on contact – but how do you think it spreads?

Plus, there’s the boomerang effect.

Repeat performances

Get rid of norovirus – or think you do – and it’s back, with interest in days. Again and again and again.

Check out the sad story of Fred Olsen Line’s cruise liner Amsterdam in 2002.

FOUR times the ship sailed from Port Canaveral, Florida, with a load of happy, expectant holiday passengers. FOUR times, the ship had to put back with outbreaks of norovirus. It got so bad that passengers on the later voyages were even warned before embarking!

Only when the ship was pulled from service and 600 workers took TEN DAYS to disinfect the ship under supervision of the CDC, was the boomerang cycle broken.

Imagine the cost – FOUR fully-loaded voyages with 1,300 passengers paying upwards of $1,200 each – TEN days of docking fees and port costs – plus labour for 600 workers, cleaning down to detail fomite objects like poker chips and bedside bibles – not much change out of 10 million.

Alongside that kind of money, New Theatre Restaurant’s 40 grand begins to look like chicken feed.

And was it the same Lysol-type spray that was so ineffective on Amsterdam? In which case look out future audiences of Out of Order – you may not be as safe as you think you are.

No more norovirus

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Norovirus might be potent – out of reach in the air, or hiding in cracks and crevices. But there IS a way to clobber it good – along with all other viruses and bacteria too – just by pressing a button.

The trick is to use a Hypersteriliser or a number of them. Called the Halo in the States, this minor miracle is a nifty portable machine about the size of a small wheelie-bin that sprays the air with hydrogen peroxide.

Not just any hydrogen peroxide either. It’s a 6% solution – the same strength you might use in a mouthwash/teeth whitener from the chemist – boosted with silver, the proven antiseptic treatment doctors used for burns and wounds before antibiotics were discovered.

It’s also ionised, so that as it mists the room or auditorium, the particles of hydrogen peroxide become charged, pushing dynamically to disperse away from each other. Spreading everywhere – hard up against walls and ceilings, deep into cracks and crevices – over, under and behind things where most clean-ups never even get considered.

Ionising actually changes the state of the hydrogen peroxide too. Already smaller and finer than water droplets – lighter than air like the viruses it preys on – the mist changes from a gas to a plasma, an electrostatically-charged cloud reaching out and grabbing at live bacteria and viruses, oxidising them to nothing.

A whole kit of extra antimicrobials help it do this – because ionising releases further hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone (a more voracious oxidiser than hydrogen peroxide), and ultraviolet. Look carefully in a darkened room, and you may even see a faint purple glow.

Safe and sterile

An hour or so later and it’s all over. 99.9999% of germs are gone – a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6 – and the hydrogen peroxide reverts back to just oxygen and water, in such small quantities that it evaporates to nothing.

Ain’t no norovirus boomeranging back after that treatment. Theatre-goers can enjoy their dinner and the show without a care in the world.

But let’s hope they’ve fixed it already.

Picture Copyright: natulrich / 123RF Stock Photo