All those germs still stressing you out? Why?

Girl shrugs shoulders
If we’re more bacteria than human, why are we worried about ourselves?

Get a grip, not all germs are bad.

That pot of probiotic yoghurt you’re climbing into for a start. Full of good healthy bacteria to aid digestion in your gut. Where they’ll join the other 100 trillion bacteria already there.

You’re not actually yourself, you see. Or not who you think you are.

The real you is different

Because bacteria resident in the body outnumber human cells more than 10 to 1 – so tiny, 20 billion or so can fit on the head of a pin – and we’re each of us carrying around enough to fill a large soup can.

So you’re more bacteria than human – so what’s all the stress about?

OK, there’s good germs and bad germs.

And the trick for us human beings (humbos) is to live with them, not against them. Find the trade-off that streamlines the way for everything we do and think – yup, bacteria influence the brain too, we’re all under mind control.

A bit of a switcheroo, hey? Because maybe whoever we are is really the bacteria – and as the resident bacteria, we control the humbo, our own personal robot.

Uh huh. A very sensitive robot, easily knocked out of balance. To be looked after with great care, like a gun. Because treated the wrong way, it can blow up in your face.

Bang, not nice

Like cleaning – which when you think about it, is simply the business of putting everything in the right place. Dirt in the wrong place, things can go wrong. Germs in the wrong place, same difference.

Except this humbo robot thingy moves around in a whole WORLD of viruses and bacteria. The air around you alone teems with 1,800 different TYPES of bacteria – too many to think of putting a figure too. And we ourselves just by being there generate around 37 million more bacteria per hour.

You got it, that means bacteria and viruses are everywhere, right?

On your clothes, on your face, underfoot, all over the food you put in your mouth (yummy probiotic yoghurt, peach flavour) – and because they touch everything and move everything around for you – on your hands.

On the things that your hands touch too – they’re called fomites. Your mobile, computer keyboard, pens, door handles, knife and fork, everything around you.

Your own face too, which is how most of the bad germs get into your body – through the soft, sensitive tissue of your eyes, nose and mouth – which, if you’re like the rest of us, you touch 2,000 – 3,000 times a day.

Your hands have it

All of which presents another mind-boggling perspective – that your life is in your hands, literally, all the time.

Dirty or germ-infested hands – the body becomes contaminated, the bacteria balance goes for a loop. And you join the other humbos writhing on the floor with norovirus, or Ebola, or whatever else it was you ALLOWED to get in and infect you.

Dead right, washing your hands saves your life – every time you do it.

Yet 95% of us never wash our hands properly, or even think about it – we’re too full of being busy humbos to think about protecting out bacterial balance. Things to do, got to get on, no time for anything – go, go, go.

The same for the environment we’re in.

Out in the open, we stand a better chance. The wind blows, rain falls, bad germs have a tough time catching up with us.

But we don’t live out in the open – and haven’t for millions of years.

Modern cave-dwellers

Our lives are indoors 90% of the time – mostly with others, at home and at work. Sharing our living space, eating together – multiplying all kinds of opportunity to cross-contaminate each other.

Us and our bioplumes of bacteria. Good and bad germs lingering in the air long after we’re gone – picking up bugs from each other even though we’re not in the same place any more. Residual infection.

Which means, like your hands, clean the room – your life depends on it.

Except rooms are little more complicated – at least with the water-and-sponge wipe-down methods we use most of the time. Sort of OK for floors and surfaces, but rubbish for anything else – like the 80% air space that surrounds us and never gets touched.

Protecting air force

Unless of course, you use a Hypersteriliser – the only way to reach into all the cracks and crevices of our living space – and knock out bad germs lingering in the air. Putting out an ultra-fine mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide that grabs viruses and bacteria on the fly, oxidising them to nothing.

No viruses, no bacteria – the room is sterile. No bad germs in the wrong place. Safe.

No good germs either, but don’t worry. As people come and go – their bioplumes with them, filling the space with their bio-auras – the good bacteria will be back.

They are us, after all. And we control the humbos, not the other way around.

So like we said, why are you stressing?

Amazing phone app warns of illness threats

Girl with mobile
A “Wash your hands” reminder even in sleep mode

Our phones just keep getting smarter.

With so many capabilities that most of us don’t even know are there.

Particularly this one, which all new phones have.

The lifesaver app

Maybe the most important one of all –because it could save your life. Actually prevent you from succumbing to that unknown dreadful illness you would never have known was there.

Seems only weeks ago that we jumped up and down, demanding that with all the super-advanced technology floating around there should be an app that stops us getting sick.

And here we are – more fool us – it’s been on our phones all the time. Like wow.

Even more incredible is that this app is active all the time. Including sleep mode, or when the battery is dead – and even when your phone is TURNED OFF.

First time experience?

If you haven’t discovered it yet, try this.

Without doing anything, hold your phone up to the light. You may have to angle it around to get the strongest reading, but it’s there.

You’ll see it’s obvious, all over the glass – a dull cloudiness, smears and finger marks.

A very useful indicator this. Subtle too, so that anyone looking over your shoulder cannot see the message. It’s discreet and avoids embarrassment. A priceless life-saving hygiene alert.

Because those marks on the glass is your phone reminding you that you need to wash your hands.

That screen is very sensitive see – well of course, it works by touch. And it makes the invisible – visible. Every contact we make with unwashed hands shows up as a mark – not necessarily of dirt, because our hands LOOK clean.

Dirt in disguise

Uh huh. Maybe that’s why we all forget to wash our hands as often as we should. Appearances are deceptive. We THINK we’re clean, but we’re not.

Because every smudge, streak, smear and stain on that phone screen is actually a germ trace – direct evidence from our fingers of the billions of invisible viruses and bacteria that surround us all the time. A visible signature of the ones we haven’t had an opportunity to wash off yet.

OK, so wipe the screen off and start again. Better still, clean your phone first – believe it or not, there’s at least 25,000 germs per square inch on there – more than in a toilet. Better wash your own hands as well, of course.

Touch the phone with clean fingers – and hey presto! Nary a sign of anything, the screen stays mirror perfect. Visible proof your hands are germ-free.

A hugely useful app, this. Because those marks also remind you of the germs lurking wherever you keep your phone – transferring to other things around it. The compact in your handbag, your purse, the make-up you carry around with you – your credit cards, pens, hairclips, scrunchies.

Oops. And that’s another hygiene hint worth, taking.

To clean out your bag and everything in it regularly – wipe them all down with a sterile wipe. Before any germs transfer back to your fingers – and of course, show up on your phone again.

Are you sure you’re safe?

Really jolts you into thinking about hygiene, hey?

Because the same applies to everywhere you put your fingers.

In your pockets, in your gloves. And all the other places you can’t sterilise that you also touch during the day. Grab handles on the bus, doorknobs, countertops, computer keyboards, your office phone.

There are germ traces on them too, but you just can’t see them. Some from you and some from other people. And what have THEY touched that might affect you? When did THEY last wash THEIR hands?

Makes you think before you bite into that doughnut with the mug of coffee at your desk, doesn’t it?

Better check first. Does your phone say it’s OK to touch the food you put in your mouth?Wash hands logo

And in the countdown between your coffee break and lunch, while you’re touching all those other things – documents from other people, packages from outside, the photocopier – will you remind yourself to wash your hands afterwards?

Should you set an alarm? Not to say it’s lunch time, but to remind you to wash your hands before you nosh? BEFORE you zoom out for the brie, tomato and basil baguette – which you can never seem wait to scoff because your tummy’s always growling already?

If not an alarm, check your phone anyway. After you’ve cleaned it of course.

Is it safe?

Are the germs gone? No germ traces? MIrror smooth?

With a brilliant app like this, you don’t want to come down with something when it’s so easy not to.

Not enough dirt as a kid? Time for a poo transplant!

Tummy ache
Get rid of the bad stuff and replace it with good

The more we look at our own bodies, the more amazing they get.

We might have sophisticated modern technology in our hospitals – able to diagnose and treat with the most intricate procedures.

But a good healthy baby can pretty well survive without any of them.

Do it all solo

Born into a world of just earth, wind and fire – and a mother’s caring love – it thrives exactly like cavemen’s offspring, millions of years ago.

What! No bath every day in body temperature water? No constantly-changed, irritation-free nappy? No sterilised bottles? No disinfected surroundings? No Calpol!

None of that while growing up either. Like farm kids today. Out in the open, doing stuff and enjoying life. Getting dirty, breaking bones, having a ball. All the the things that Elf & Safety would never allow if they were at school with city kids.

Result? Almost never ill. Tummies like cast-iron. Stiffened resistance to colds and flu. No allergies of any kind. Good, healthy, stop-at-nothing adults.

Nothing like any of us city-types, hey? Sick as a dog at the first sign of cold weather. Sensitive to all kinds of change in food. Slightest sign of any bug going round and we catch it – in bed for weeks, hospital, saline drips, the works.

Hygiene hypothesis

Medics call it the hygiene hypothesis – the notion that growing up dirty teaches the immune system resistance – how to recognise dangerous germs and defend against them.

Because us city slickers have none of that. We grow up in surroundings clean and pure, so our bodies never face any challenges. Even though each one of us has this hyper-tuned defensive immune system, just ready to take on any evil pathogens.

We’re not just us, you see. We’re actually in partnership with a whole load of germs that live in our bodies – 100 trillion of them at rough count, around ten times the number of our own body cells.

Which means one heck of a lot of getting to know who’s who that the immune system has to learn, growing up. Who’s good, who’s bad, who can help if things go pear-shaped. Who’s on our side.

Kind of important to get that balance right. Bad germs live in us just as much as good ones, held in balance so everything stays OK.

Keeping the balance

But every so often something skews that balance. Stress at work or in a relationship – worry, anxiety, obsession, longing. Next thing acid tummy, nerves shot to pieces, mind going dilly – stress.

And here’s this hyperactive immune system just itching to jump in and help – gung ho to clobber anything, so it chooses the first thing it comes across. Which kind of explains why we’re getting such strange allergies.

Attack!

There’s no holding back those immune cells. Which might trigger a reaction to all kinds of things – milk, nuts, eggs. Or even weirder things – why?

Because they’re there – water, money, mobile phones, underwear, sex, computers, exercise, even food and drink. There is also actually a man who is allergic to Nigel Farage, the politician.

So when you say the Six O’Clock News makes you sick, you could actually be right.

It could even be worse than that. A gastrointestinal disorder that your body just can’t throw off. Clostridium difficile or c.diff is so unpleasant, you might feel you want to die. All that goo inside you is out of balance, and without help, you’ll never come right.

Which is where the poo transplant comes in. If you can’t get rid of the wrong bacteria, or fight them off – it’s time to replace yours with good healthy poo, good bacteria, that can.

The power of poo

And not just for c.diff, but for colitis or any other intestinal disorder – even for conditions that haven’t been fully diagnosed yet. Sometimes literally the difference between life and death.

Sounds outrageous doesn’t it? Except human beings have been doing it for thousands of years. The Chinese used it to treat food poisoning and severe diarrhoea – a golden soup drunk so that bad bacteria were replaced by good bacteria from someone healthy. Bedouin Arabs still use fresh camel dung to cure bacterial dysentery.

A yucky idea, but it works!

Wash your hands

But so does being meticulously clean afterwards – which is why you must never forget to wash your hands. Always after going to the loo, always before eating food – because the fastest way to come down with any illness at all is to allow it into your system.

Your fingers touch everything and germs aren’t fussy. From stuff you swallow, from touching your mouth, from touching the sensitive areas on your face – they’ll stop at nothing to get in and grab a hold. And they’ll do that, whether you ate dirt as a kid or not.

Good health, good hygiene – and may you live long and happy.

Life-saving dirty secrets land MRSA in the poo

You have to do it when you’re little – play dirty to play safe

Blam!

Suddenly you’re back a thousand years, toiling on a farm in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex.

That super-star tough guy Canute hasn’t arrived yet – he’s only due in Poole Harbour in September or so – it’s too hot for fighting and pillaging now.

Dirt under your fingernails

So you’re out in the fields, getting all muddy, then chopping up garlic and leeks for tonight’s meal – a bubbling stew with wine and stuff you make in that brass pot your forefathers brought over from Denmark in the last invasion.

Oh yeah, and with the leftovers, you’re going to dump in some bile from Sunniva, the family cow – your man Betlic has a nasty stye on his eye and your ancient family-recipe goo is just the thing to fix it.

He’s got to wait a week or so before you can use it though – the stuff needs to do its thing – simmer, bubble, mature, whatever. All you know is, it settles down into a kind of paste – and clears up eye infections overnight.

Amazing how things work with min resources, isn’t it?

Back then, there was no such thing as an antibiotic. Nobody even knew what “biotic” was. But when you live on the land, getting good and dirty working the soil, you learn a thing about treating cuts and scratches – or even serious injury.

Make it up as you go along

This mud makes a good poultice, mixed in with pounded comfrey. Those leaves fix your stomach ache if you boil them, then mix the liquid with goat’s wee. Chew that willow bark to fix your headache.

Natural things – and your own body’s immune system, intertwined and reacting to your environment. There are no doctors here, so injuries get trial-and-error treatments handed down through centuries.

But nobody gets sick either – their bodies have built defences to the usual soil bacteria and seasonal viruses. Bad food, of course will do it – or the bite of an animal from another area – different germs you’ve never got used to.

If a doctor examined you in some Twenty-First Century Clinic – nobody would believe the findings. You’re good to go anywhere at all – while your modern cousins are languishing with asthma, hay fever, all kinds of other coughs and sneezes – stuff you shake off without thinking.

‘Cos your immune system’s good, see. Up and running and properly tuned.

Everywhere, threats

Not like them. Allergies of all kinds they can’t get rid of. Immune systems compensating for challenges they haven’t faced for hundreds of years.

But that’s the price of modern living. Safe drinking water and plumbed sewage. Hygienic surroundings. Food produced so carefully there’s no chance of infection. No threats for your system to latch onto – so it finds substitutes.

Like, back in your pre-Canute days, who ever reacted to grass seeds? Or pollen in the air? Or flared up with bee stings? Or swelled up eating nuts?

It didn’t happen because your system knew the odds. It learnt from chewing dirt as a child. Mud and cow bile. Mud and poo – what’s the difference? Babies are tough – and self-teaching their immune systems is why.

You think your stye ointment is just for fixing eye troubles – with no idea of its other healing powers.

You don’t have MRSA in your time – methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus – there are no antibiotics for it to resist. But you don’t have the staph infections either – your eye-gop stops them too.

Body self-destruct

Count yourself lucky.

Because allergies aren’t the only thing that happen when the immune system over-reacts.

Ever heard of sepsis?

Blame it on our over-clean, over-safe, sanitised, pasteurised lifestyle. One tiny, everyday disorder and the system goes into meltdown. It’s only a throat tickle, but the body retaliates as if it’s thermo-nuclear war.

Every antibody in your whole metabolism goes into over-drive, but there’s nothing serious to react to. But everything’s gung-ho, so the body attacks itself.

Which is what happens when the immune system has nothing to do. And why 37,000 people die from sepsis every year. Not big, like cancer, but every bit as deadly – which is why heartbroken families have helped put together a trust fund to fight it.

Yeah, MRSA – and all those other hospital-acquired infections. Other bugs too, that we’ve lost our defences for – because we’re too clean-obsessed for our own good.

We’re in it now

Because it’s too late now to go play in the mud. We’re all grown up and unable to learn. A bit of dirt and we all come down with something dreadful – like our every-time-a-coconut holiday friend, norovirus.

So it’s not just MRSA that’s in the poo, it’s us.

OK, so clean-obsessed works, up to a point. Time to go wash your hands. And blast all the germs and viruses around you out of existence with a Hypersteriliser.

And that’s no secret, just common sense.

How down and dirty could save your life

Dirty faced woman
Our immune systems might have the dirt on germs – but we still need to wash our hands all the time

No, not beauty treatment or anything like that.

Forget Dead Sea mud and all the pampering clinics. This is good eat-dirt-to-make-healthy-bodies thinking – otherwise known as the “hygiene hypothesis”.

Oh, and you’ve got to do it before you’re more than twelve months old. After that, your immune system is no longer working in turbo mode to remember all the germs it knows how to conquer.

Know your enemy

Actually, the body does keep on discovering these as you get older, but not at the same pace.

Kids who grow up on a farm for instance, are more resistant to allergies and infection. Even early exposure to animal faeces and cockroach droppings seems to be beneficial – in weird conflict with keeping clean and washing our hands all the time.

But there is reason in the madness.

Our immune systems learn how to recognise and fight life-threatening micro-organisms in later life. They even acquire memories of germs they’ve never encountered – hostile pathogens never experienced before that have never entered our bodies.

Segue fast forward to adulthood and the same principle applies.

Developing immunity

Because it seems around half of us have developed an immunity to flu so strong, we just never come down with it any more – no coughs, sneezes, headaches, fever. They just pass us by. Previous infections have built up our resistance, so that our bodies can tell flu viruses to get lost.

And yep, it seems to work against pandemic flu too – we’re able to withstand oncoming waves of bird flu, swine flu and maybe even SARS as well. Not from eating dirt, but from previous exposure to milder infections that teach our immune systems how to handle the real villains.

Kinda like the analogy with cowpox and smallpox.

For centuries, smallpox was a killer virus that caused misery for millions with pus-filled blisters all over the body. But in 1796, Edward Jenner, a doctor in Gloucestershire, discovered that previous exposure to cowpox – a familiar problem on farms – produced immunity to smallpox.

“Vacca” is the Latin word for cow – from which we get “vaccine,” a protection from viruses – and “vaccination”, the jab we get to protect us. Actually for cowpox it’s a series of tiny jabs dipped in vaccine solution – a mild reaction blister develops, but disappears in two weeks – and we are protected.

Washing hands is always vital

All of which does not mean that we should ignore daily hygiene, or that it’s safe to run around with dirty hands.

It was another doctor, Joseph Lister, who discovered that surgery patients were dying because infections were transferred from one case to another by surgeons who did not realise the significance of washing hands between treatments.

And yes, he’s the guy after whom Listerine is named, originally an antiseptic, but now a mouthwash.

We might have immunities, but there’s still plenty of germs out there we haven’t encountered yet – all too ready to do the dirty on us if we stop being careful. (Tweet this)

And the Lister story is significant because it’s about transferring germs, spreading them on contact – either directly, or by things we touch in common with other people – door handles, mobiles, keyboards, knives and forks – what the medics call “fomites”.

Hygiene to protect others

Our immunities aren’t all the same either. So while WE might be safe from a particular germ, the kid at the next desk in school – or the colleague alongside us at work – other people might not be.

How fair is it to give them our germs – infect them with a bug we’re immune to – because we’re too forgetful to wash our hands?

Yes, “down and dirty” teaches our bodies to be strong when we’re infants. It’s also how we need to fight germs when we’re older. All or nothing, brute force, get rid of them.Rediscover Hygiene logo

Because living in communities of others as we do – all of us different – there’s no one-size-fits-all protection we can share.

Except washing hands.

Life-saving habits

Except doing everything to keep germs away from any of us who are vulnerable. To stop any cross-contamination. To keep everything around us clean and germ-free for the same reason. Even to using a Hypersteriliser to sterilise the living space around us.

Dead and gone, germs can’t touch us.

So let’s give them their own dirty treatment straight back again.

MERS in South Korea – but what about here?

Pensive doctor in mask
We should worry about keeping our hands clean more than covering our face

The pictures are pretty scary.

People in face masks everywhere.

In shops. At work. On buses and trains. Teams of white-suited hit units spraying disinfectant. Trucks doing the same thing down city roads. Schools closed.

In South Korea, they take MERS seriously.

So should we.

MERS ticket to anywhere

It arrived on a plane to Seoul from the Middle East, carried by just one 68-year-old man. They’ve had a single case in Germany too.

Hop on a plane and your virus is suddenly the other side of the world. Riyadh airport has about 400 aircraft movements a day – Jeddah, around the same – almost half the traffic of Heathrow.

Which ought to be a wake up call for us here in UK.

Not for MERS, which is actually quite difficult to catch and probably less of a threat than it’s pumped up to be. But for any other kind of virus or bacteria that might be more easily spread.

Why?

Because the South Koreans handle these things properly – on top of it from the word go, hazmat suits and sprays everywhere. And they’re already on the case working jointly with the Saudis.

Not like us slap-happy Brits. Did you see anything like the Korean thing when we had that SARS outbreak a few years back? Or the swine flu?

Seems the only people wearing face masks back then were foreigners who knew the risk – or actual containment teams busy with handling the emergency.

Sloppy hygiene

Not that face masks are the big thing that we Brits need to worry about. Our personal hygiene levels are so lacking, it’s a wonder we’re not pegging off left, right and centre every day.

Our number one risk is from hands. And small wonder:

Which is why we keep reading stories about norovirus – the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease – breaking out all over.

Last month Toby Carvery, HMS Raleigh and the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. This month The Western Isles Hospital, celebs at Glastonbury and the Longmynd Hotel in Shropshire.

The things we touch

But it’s not just norovirus. Dirty hands can transmit any number of diseases faster than you could imagine. Like Ebola, or typhoid, or the Black Death – all of them fatal unless you’re lucky. (Tweet this)

Wash Hands LogoAnd sorry, it’s not like putting on a mask and you’re safe – putting on latex gloves will get you precisely nowhere. You actually have to wash your hands, particularly before food and after the loo .

Because if nothing else, you actually touch your face up to 3,000 times a day without thinking about it – favourite entry into the body of every virus and bacteria – through the soft tissue of the eyes, nose and mouth.

Protect the space around us

There’s another defence we don’t think about either – which the Koreans are showing us in every news update. Spraying disinfectant everywhere, so that places are safe BEFORE they’re used again.

Except we can go one better with the Hypersteriliser. To actually sterilise the spaces we live and work in, so that ALL viruses and bacteria are gone.

Just one machine, misting up with ionised hydrogen peroxide automatically, is way easier, quicker (about 40 minutes a room) and more effective than teams of hazmat experts spraying sodium hypochlorite everywhere – 99.9999% of all germs destroyed.

But of course, this is Britain, so we’ll just fudge along until something major happens – then blame the NHS or the government or somebody for letting it happen..

Not to any of us though – we’re going to keep our hands clean.

After you with the soap.

Wash your hands, yes – but dry them safely?

Girl with soapy hands
And for your next trick – how to get them dry safely

You’ve done the whole thing – soap and running water for two minutes, the backs of your hand too, and in between the fingers.

Phase One complete – exactly the way we’re inspired to by those hygiene experts at Northampton General Hospital.

So now your hands are dripping.

Clean, yes – but with residual germs contained in the water drops.

Which means Phase Two – removing the moisture AND the residual germs.

Where’s the drying doohickey?

If you’re at home, there’s probably a towel within easy reach – a fresh one, because you’re that kind of person.

That’s OK, as long as you only use the thing once. Wiping your hands gets rid of the moisture – and has a certain scraping action that gets a lot of the germs off.

But now they’re on the towel which is already moist and at room temperature. Perfect for germ reproduction, which they will certainly do, doubling in number every twenty minutes or so. Chuck it in the laundry and they’ll get sorted.

But put the towel back on the rail to be used again and you’re setting yourself up for re-contamination. You wash your hands again and a whole load of new germs arrive just when you think you’ve got them clean.

Uh, huh. You’ve gone backwards.

Re-germing

Better if you’re in a hotel of course. Fresh linen every day, so it’s use once and chuck. But have two showers, one in the evening and one next morning, both with the same towel and… you guessed it – you’ve re-germed yourself again.

How about elsewhere? Public places, shared washrooms, lines of loos and hand basins and – gasp – other people.

Keep your eyes open, what you’ll see will shock you. Like around half of everybody busily pushing through don’t even bother to wash their hands. Weirdly, some of them will even look like they’re going through the motions – actually standing at the basin – but not physically doing anything.

Why is this, people all in a rush? The place might be done up nice, but it’s hardly where you’ll want to linger. No plugs in the basins for a start – though that’s a good way of compelling you to use running water.

I don’t wanna queue

There certainly IS an issue with hand drying. If the place gets anywhere busy, like Saturday morning at a shopping mall, there’s ALWAYS a queue for the towel dispenser or air dryer.

Right there could be one reason people don’t wash – they see the queue and stump out of there in a late model huff. Another sub-group avoid the queue by wiping their hands on their clothes. Let’s hope neither of them are going to sit down and have a meal with their hands like that.

Could also be the drying method puts them off. Plus the six to ten steps across the floor to the drying thing with your hands dripping, before you can even start.

The yuck method

It’s dying a death now, but the old cloth roller towel dispenser is still around. You know the one – where you grab both edges of a section previously used by someone else to give yourself a fresh piece, pull down hard and then wipe.

Yes, it gets your hands dry – but there’s a good chance you’ve got somebody else’s germs in using it. And the somebody after you gets yours.

How about a paper towel dispenser?

Fiendishly difficult contraptions to operate when your hands are wet – jamming, bunching up, or refusing to dispense all together. You get your hands dry alright, but usually with a wodge the size of a football before you’ve finished – and requiring a dexterity level at least on par with those amazing technical ladies who solder miniature circuit boards.

Despite all this, paper towels are undoubtedly the safest. Use once and throw away – brilliant in principle.

The turbo-blaster

But technology’s not finished with you yet, because there’s also the air dryer. Either a weak buzzing machine that does nothing, or a force-feed jet blast from a supersonic wind tunnel. Yes, you’ll get you hands dry if you wait long enough – though it will auto shut-off at least five times before you do.

Uh, huh. Check the floor underneath. A lot of people like you dripped for several minutes before the drying became effective. And have you noticed how humid it always seems to get in there?

A lot of water drops are being blasted off into smaller germ-laden droplets and spreading throughout the room. You walk in to go for a sprinkle – and walk out with a dose of flu.

King of the dryers right now is undoubtedly the triple whammy air blade dryer. Pioneered by the Dyson people, who are all totally brilliant. But again, not designed for someone with dripping hands.

Check the floor of the compartment underneath where you put your hands in though – there’s usually a pool of water. Look at the walls alongside and you’ll see damp squidges radiating out – airborne germ clouds, just like the other jobs.

So what to do?

Hygiene magic

Lucky for all of us, there’s a guy called Joe Smith who has it all worked out. Shake your hands after washing, then dry them with a single sheet of folded paper. Check out his video on TED – if nothing else, his charisma will have you remembering how to get your hands dry safely for ever.

Joe’s mantra is SHAKE your hands to get rid of the drops – then FOLD the paper to give you enough absorbency to remove the moisture. Try it, it works – big time.

But there’s still the problem of acquiring your piece of paper in the first place. Joe has them all primed and ready. But you will have to battle with some kind of dispenser – and with wet hands as we’ve seen before, you really need to be Fukimoto-san, high-tech solder expert.

There is however, a way out. To reverse Joe’s mantra and do it backwards: first FOLD, then SHAKE.

Fold, as in have the single sheets pre-folded in a dispenser you can extricate them from with wet hands. NONE of the existing ones on the market allow you to do this with any ease.

Pre-folding

OK, so have a cup of coffee while you think about it – at Costa’s, where they seem to know a thing or two. Including – though they don’t know it – how to get your hands dry.

Because the paper napkin you take to your table is already pre-folded into four – and easily accessible, packed loose in an open-topped container along with the spoons, sugar, straws and stir-sticks for you to help yourself.

Picking up one of those without lifting a whole fistful is a breeze. So if your washroom had a box of those on the vanity slab beside each basin, it would be a doddle.

No more trudging to the dispenser or dryer, dripping on the floor. The FOLD is already done. You SHAKE your hands, keeping them in the basin so all the drops stay in the right place. Then you pick up a sheet and dry your hands. Clean, dry and safe, because all the germs go in the bin.

Back to Earth

So why all the rigmarole with expensive machines that don’t really work?

Search us.

Though the legend is not lost on us that when the Americans sent the astronauts into space, they spent millions developing a pen that would write in a vacuum, upside down if necessary, and on all surfaces.

The Russians gave their cosmonauts pencils.

Paper, scissors, rock – paper wins.

Feeling ick? Ever twigged it could be your fault?

Sick woman with medicine
Wrong again. Medicine is for afters – it’s washing hands before

Nice restaurant, was it?

Never been there before. Never had clam, chorizo & white bean stew before either.

Dangerous living, on-the-edge exotic. No wonder you’re feeling queasy. Ick de luxe – not nice.

Price of carelessness

Except, may we ask you a personal question?

OK, it was a whole evening out. You took the tube to town, had a few drinks at that stunning wine bar (they serve nuts, but it couldn’t have been them). Then a short bus ride and romantic stroll to this new Spanish place. You had a booking, they sat you down, you ordered and stuff arrived.

Perfect.

So when did you wash your hands?

Touchy, feely world

Hey, it’s a big city – 8 million people. Lots of them ride the tube too. Hell in the rush hour – strap-hanging, clutching the grab rails. Same on the buses. And every door handle in this magnificent burg – touching, grabbing all kinds of other things as well, just like you.

And most of them never washed their hands either. Out and about, doing stuff – never occurs to anyone, right? Oh, and yes – most people never wash their hands properly either, like 95% of us.

Plenty germs with 8 million people – and it only takes one.  More than half of us never wash our hands after going to the loo either.

Just a few cells should do it – maybe 20 or so. Microscopically smaller than the point of a pin. So tiny they could even fall THROUGH an unglazed plate. But that small, they’re so light that gravity has no effect, so they’re probably swirling round in the air.

No, we’re not going to suggest that you breathe them in, though you could.

They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere

Much more likely they’ll catch on your clothing or your skin – particularly your hands, because they’re always exposed and doing things. Touching doors, handbags, mobile, money, grab rails, menus, knife and fork – even food itself, ‘scuse fingers.

And your face more than anything else – which we all touch unconsciously 3,000 times a day. Especially the soft, moist tissue round the eyes, nose and mouth – the germs’ favourite way in to cause infection.

Heck, we even jam stuff in our mouths while we’re searching for something in our pockets. Keys, credit cards, plane tickets.

Unthinking, yeah? Never even remembering to ask “do you know where it’s been?”

So now it’s hours later and the cramps have started. Seriously ick. You’ve been to the loo twice and it’s all liquid. You’re shivering and your head is starting to pound. Something you ate, for sure – or so your head tells you.

Clams and chorizo, what were you thinking?

Not the chef’s fault

Except that wasn’t some greasy spoon, hole-in-the-wall place, it was a decent restaurant. Good professionals making an honest buck – not much chance the food was off. Nobody else came down with anything either, and the place was spotless.

Sure there are places with mice and cockroaches, but this wasn’t one of them – you’d know before you stepped in the door, that kind of carelessness gives itself away. And you’re fussy enough to walk out if it doesn’t feel right, so you stayed and enjoyed yourself. You know about being ick.

But unless you’re allergic to clams, your suspicions could be a little off. The likeliest cause is something transferred from your own hands – directly to the food, or from your face.

Out of sight, out of mind

Be honest, when was there a soap and water opportunity before you ate? Unless we deliberately make one, it’s not even on the radar for most of us, so don’t feel you’re the exception. It was a special moment. You took the chances we all take every single day – and this time you were unlucky.

So yes, it’s probably norovirus. But no, not from the food. From your own not-quite-so-fair hands and your own forgetfulness. Which is how most of us get ick.

Sure, not everything you touch can harm you. But just about everything DOES transfer to you. It’s on your palms and all over your fingers – too small to see and too impossible to tell whether it’s harmless or dangerous.

Which is why the hand washing thing is so vital. You can’t take a chance on good or bad, so you wash your hands to avoid the risk.

Spanish treats

Sorry you’re ick. But you enjoyed the food at the time, didn’t you? And Spanish people go crazy for fresh seafood, so you can imagine the care they take to get it right.

Let’s hope you remember next time, to avoid misadventure. If you like clams, you’ll freak for nécoras – those velvety crab done with white wine, sofrito and olive oil. Or the pulpo with olive oil, paprika and salt…

Mmm, what are you doing next weekend?

MERS from camels: like bird flu meets norovirus

Camel girl
Not nice for animals, not nice for us – and it’s spreading

The word is “zoonotic”.

That’s a disease that jumps to us from animals.  Ebola is one, HIV is another. So is SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), remember that?

From birds, from monkeys, all kinds of living things.

None of them are nice.

Another coronavirus

And all of them have no cure when they first happen. People die, and the medics go into overdrive, looking for effective treatment.

Right now the alarm bells are ringing for MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), a new coronavirus thought to have started with bats and somehow transferred to camels.

Since first encountered in 2012, most cases have been in the Arabian peninsula – the camel connection.

The panic now is that it’s suddenly jumped to South Korea.  Which is of course the problem with all modern illnesses. A few hours on a Boeing and they could wind up anywhere.

Two in one

MERS is particularly nasty – a virus with two sets of symptoms for the price of one.

Like most respiratory illnesses, it feels like flu – fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The unwanted bonus is like norovirus – nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

If complications set in, pneumonia and kidney failure follow. And of course, dehydration. 3 – 4 out of every 10 who catch it die – a mortality rate of one-third.

Not to be played with. So if ever there was a spur to tighten up personal hygiene, this is it. Even camels can succumb to lack of fluids.

A good stimulus is to remember that schoolboy chestnut, “beware the camel spits.”

MERS is catching

Right there is one of the ways that MERS transmits – though the air from someone coughing or sneezing. Droplets from any kind of body fluid are a real danger.

The other way would be cuddling up to a camel, or someone unlucky enough to have MERS.

And not even a cuddle – a handshake will do it, or even borrowing a pen to sign something.

Touch your mouth, nose or eyes after that – and most of us do it 3,000 times a day – and you could already be at risk.

Hidden threat

You see, you can’t tell someone has MERS when it starts. It takes around ten days for the symptoms to show themselves. (Tweet this) The downer is that it’s contagious all of that time.

During which you’ve caught the plane, done your sales meeting, enjoyed the celebratory banquet, flown home again – and been in time for your daughter’s stage debut in the school ballet. So how many people did you glad-hand in that little jaunt?

Wash Hands LogoPersonal hygiene

You got it – wash your hands at every opportunity. Before food, after the loo – and whenever you can after touching somebody or something from outside your usual circle of living.

The other defence is to safeguard your immediate environment.

Not the great outdoors of course, but the enclosed spaces we all share – lots of us all together, moving in the same space, using the same things, breathing the same air – at work, at school, at places where we eat and relax.

Sterilised surroundings

HypersteriliserBefore we get there, all viruses and bacteria that may be present are destroyed with a Hypersteriliser. A fine mist of hydrogen peroxide plasma penetrates everywhere and actively oxidises them to nothing. So when we walk in through the door, the place is sterile.

Two defences – against a two-faced virus with serious implications if we don’t keep watchful.

Get lost, MERS.

Not “how do you do?” But “good riddance”.

Chicken is OK to eat, as long as you’re careful

Girl with chicken
There’s a problem with chicken? I never knew there was a problem with chicken

Well, here we are.

One week on from Food Safety Week – one week on from the 2015 Chicken Challenge – and most of us are still alive. A roll of drumsticks please!

Yep, we’re learning.

Doing the bold thing

Thanks to sterling efforts by the Food Standards Agency (FSA), we’re all making the effort to avoid food poisoning from chicken by:

  • keeping raw chicken separate from other all other food, where it can’t drip or leak on the bottom shelf of the fridge
  • not washing raw chicken or splashing water from it around as this spreads highly contagious campylobacter germs
  • actively washing everything that’s been in contact with raw chicken to remove germs from cutting boards, utensils, and of course hands – all with plenty of soap and hot water
  • ensuring chicken is thoroughly cooked through – no more pink meat and juices running clear

Do all these things and we’re safe from the widespread campylobacter bug – the one that causes more of us to have cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea than any other common tummy germ.

Widespread? Oh yes. It’s the UK’s No 1 cause of tummy upsets.

Most birds, all birds

Hardly surprising as around 75% of all poultry has campylobacter resident in its gut. And we are a nation of chicken-eaters – 2.2 million chickens a week, 803 million chickens a year.

That’s a meal of chicken at least once a month for everyone in the UK.

Which has the FSA breathing fire and brimstone that poultry producers and the supermarkets should be doing something about it. They want birds with campylobacter reduced to zero. 280,000 people a year go ill with campylobacter – and this is the Twenty-First Century for goodness sake!

Other people are in on the act too. Like the consumer heavy who said: “It beggars belief that nearly three-quarters of chickens on sale in supermarkets are still infected with this potentially deadly bug and that no retailers have met the FSA’s target.”

Infected?

Healthy as nature intended

Time to get real. You see, 75% of all poultry has campylobacter because it occurs naturally in birds. Their digestive system is not the same as ours, so the bacterium is benign, non-pathogenic, harmless.

Inhabited, yes, but not infected. All these birds are perfectly healthy.

Robbing them of campylobacter could even do them harm.

Besides, we know the dangers and how to fix them, why point a finger at the poultry farmers?

It’s like locking up cows because they get muddy feet. Well of course they do, they eat grass – and in this green, green, rain-drenched UK of ours, grass gets wet all the time, so mud is inevitable.

But we don’t penalise the cows for muddy feet – just like we don’t penalise chickens for having campylobacter.

We have a defence

Heat through pasteurisation kills the germs in milk – and heat through cooking kills the germs in chickens.

So yes, it’s right to make a fuss, the FSA is right. But not by controlling the birds.

By fixing the packaging.

By protecting us from any leaks or contamination from raw chicken meat, right through to the cooked birds which are harmless.

And yes, right now most packaging is pretty manky. Rack ’em, stack ’em, and pack ’em bargain basement stuff that leaks all over the place – no wonder we come down with the bug.

About the best are cook-in-the-bag prepared recipes. Safe because the chicken and all ingredients are sealed in to make sure the recipe works.

But check out any of the El Cheapo packs of wings and drumsticks – it’s a whole other story.

And if that stuff leaks on your other shopping, on in the fridge when you finally get it home, the family could be in for a really ropey few days.

Time for action

Yeah, so come on FSA – hit those guys hard for better packaging and everybody will be better off.

Until then though, don’t take chances. Keep your chicken in its own separate plastic wrapping away from everything else – and don’t forget to wash your hands. (Tweet this)

Bon appetit!