But if you come down with the pneumonic form of the Plague, you’d be lucky to make it at all. Mortality averages at 95% or higher. No wonder they called it the Black Death.
Today of course, we know about hygiene and keeping things clean. Which means controlling vermin and their parasites too – ie, the bacteria-carrying fleas on the rats that brought the Plague to Europe throughout the Fourteenth Century.
Half of Europe died in that first pandemic. And again, right through to the Seventeenth Century.
No soap, no hygiene – so Britain was ravaged repeatedly.
Until the Great Fire of London stopped it dead in its tracks.
By which time Black Death had killed half the people.
Up to 7,000 a week died in the months leading up to that catastrophic blaze.
Which made burning it all down one of the biggest hygiene levellers in history.
So should we get out the matches to stop Ebola?
Surprisingly, good plain old soap and keeping ourselves clean stops a lot of bugs getting to us already. Without dirt and slovenly habits, even Ebola finds it more difficult to get traction.
But just as people were ignorant about germ defence in the Fourteenth Century, so our heads are in the sand about serious protection in the Twenty-First.
Ebola can be stopped, totally – before it even gets to us.
Because like all viruses and bacteria, it cannot survive being oxidised.
OK, we can’t exactly fumigate the whole planet.
But we can mist up enclosed spaces – especially where larger numbers of us congregate – office buildings, schools, hotels, restaurants.
It’s an old Lebanese proverb, that hygiene is two thirds of health. More accurately, hygiene is the one thing we can all practice that keeps us from death.
The truth of this is everywhere. Look no further than the Great Plague or Black Death – in Fourteenth Century Europe, the greatest health catastrophe ever.
Poor hygiene, certain death
Bubonic plague, yersinia pestis, was thought to be spread by rats and the fleas that infested them. More recent studies suspect humans themselves, through “ectoparasites”, such as body lice and human fleas. Exposure to any of them – together with the low levels of hygiene that prevailed at that time – and you were lucky not to be a goner.
Because rats were common in Fourteenth Century Europe. So were all manner of diseases and illnesses. Poor hygiene guaranteed it. People crammed in cities on top of each other. Few sewers. Pretty well zero sanitation. Human excrement dumped straight into the streets, then into the rivers that provided drinking water.
Not at all a healthy place to be.
Which is how the Black Death killed 50 million people, 60% of Europe’s population. Three to five days to react to a flea bite. Three to five days breaking out in suppurating buboes – and an 80% chance you would die within hours.
Goodbye cruel world. The end of everything through poor hygiene. Halted only by three days of germ-killing, purifying flames in the Great Fire of London, September 1666.
Halted, but without any advance in hygiene. Still the same lack of sewerage, no access to running water, wearing the same clothes for the whole winter, not even a bath once a year. And all the while, everybody’s body waste and faecal matter was discharged into the Thames.
The Great Stink
So that inevitably, nearly two hundred years after the Great Fire, came the Great Stink.
By that time, London had doubled and quadrupled, then quadrupled again. Newly-laid drains took away the never-ending effluent – increasingly from flushing toilets, the new invention of the age. Flush it away, get rid of the smell, out of sight, out of mind.
Except of course, it still wound up in the Thames. And surprise, surprise, Londoners still weren’t very healthy – the river was still the major source of drinking water.
Exactly how it was before the rats arrived, with cholera from drinking contaminated water back in top spot as the Number One killer. 40,000 died from cholera between 1831 and 1866 – most lethal killer since the Black Death itself – with infant mortality hovering at 50% and children under five not much better.
The summer of 1858 made it even worse. With a once-in-a-century drought and corresponding heatwave –temperatures climbed day after day to 48°C, as hot as North Africa. The Thames shrank to a trickle – and as water levels dropped, exposed more and more layers of faecal matter on the riverbed, baking and fermenting in the summer sun.
The smell, accumulated from hundreds of years of raw sewage, was unbearable.
People avoided the river, now a disgusting brown slurry of poo. The posh and aristocracy moved out of town. MPs abandoned the Houses of Parliament, newly rebuilt after a fire in 1834. But not before passing long-overdue laws for a massive new sewer scheme.
Down the drain
It took twenty years, but thanks to the brilliant engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette – the unique and awe-inspiring Victoria, Albert and Lambeth Embankments were the result, with yawning great sewerage tunnels concealed underneath. All supported by 82 miles of main intercepting sewers, 1,100 miles of street sewers, four pumping stations and two treatment works.
Slowly, the Thames revived, to become one of the cleanest cityscapes in Europe.
The water became safer too – with the discovery by physician Sir John Snow that cholera was spread by polluted water, not airborne. Famously, he persuaded the local authority in Soho, St James Vestry, to remove the handle of the public water pump in Broad Street, identified as the source of the most recent cholera outbreak.
Today London’s drinking water still comes mostly from the Thames, but only after screening, clarification, filtration, aeration, removal of pesticides and organic compounds by Granular Activated Carbon (GAC), ozone dosing, disinfection and ammoniation to ensure its purity.
And in case of another hundred-year drought like the one that brought the Great Stink, London’s water is further supplemented by the reverse osmosis treatment of sea water in a massive new processing plant at Beckton.
All of which keeps us a lot safer than the way we were in Victorian times. So safe that we seldom bother about it. We live in a clean, well-kept environment where the thought of germs is far away, unaware of our lucky escape from the clutches of bubonic plague and cholera.
Both are still around of course. Cholera ready to break out wherever flooding contaminates drinking water. And the plague still lurking in Madagascar, where 2,348 case were confirmed just last November – a mere 13½-hour hop away by Boeing.
Out of sight, out of mind
Our thoughts might be far away, but germs aren’t. Viruses, bacteria and fungi are part of our daily life and all around us. We’re even half bacteria ourselves, microorganisms in our gut helping us digest food, create proteins and even manage our immune systems.
So we take chances. Every day dicing with death without even knowing we’re doing it.
We KNOW about germs and how dangerous they are. But because we feel safe, we don’t think about them. So every day we put our lives at risk, as surely as back in Victorian times.
At work we’re careless, heads full of business, too busy to worry about hygiene. Which is why we take no notice that our workplace is teeming with health hazards.
Bubonic plague and cholera haven’t gone away, they’re just held back by massive hygiene defence systems.
Even so, from our own behaviour, there’s nothing to stop us from coming down with tummy bugs like norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter and e.coli. Or respiratory illnesses like Aussie flu, MERS, SARS, TB or pneumonia. Any one of which could be the death of us, if modern medicine wasn’t there to catch when we fall.
Makes you think twice about keeping ourselves clean, doesn’t it?
Two thirds of health?
It never feels like it, but forgetting to wash our hands is just as deadly as playing Russian roulette.
Hypersteriliser units are supplied to businesses and institutions across the UK, notably the haematology and other critical units at Salford Royal Hospital, Greater Manchester; Doncaster & Bassetlaw Hospital; South Warwickshire Hospital; Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital; and Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.
The Halo Hypersteriliser system achieves 6-log Sterility Assurance Level – 99.9999% of germs destroyed.It is the only EPA-registered dry mist fogging system – EPA No 84526-6. It is also EU Biocide Article 95 Compliant.
Right now it’s running riot in Toamasina and Antananarivo, both cities on the popular holiday island of Madagascar. It’s spread to the nearby Seychelles islands too – triggering alarm bells in neighbouring Reunion, Mauritius and Comoros.
Also at risk are the mainland countries of Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa – all of which have received alerts from the World Health Organization.
And this time it’s not the bubonic version, which rode into Middle Ages Europe carried by fleas on the backs of rats. This is the more virulent and airborne pneumonic type, spread by coughs and sneezes and simply breathing in infected air.
A plague outbreak in faraway Africa – the other end of the world.
Can it happen here?
Can’t affect us here, can it? Nothing to worry about.
Until you realise that an Airbus A340 can get here from Nairobi in 8 hours and 50 minutes with 14 flights a day. Or from Cape Town in 11 hours and 35 minutes with 25 flights. Or from Johannesburg in 11 hours with 30 flights. Or from Dar es Salaam in …
You get the picture.
All places a lot of Brits have just come from after the half term break.
Possibly colleagues in the same office – or their friends.
Sneezing and coughing like always after a long flight. Dried out sinuses, “aeroplane flu” or something more serious?
Thing is, the pneumonic form of Yersinia pestis (as The Plague is properly known) comes on so fast you could be seriously ill by the time you’ve swallowed your first paracetamol. Yes, antibiotics can stop it – the Doc will probably put you on tetracycline or doxycycline and you should be OK.
Colleagues at risk
But until you’re isolated, you’re contagious. Breathing the same air as your colleagues – exposing them to the same 670-year-old killer that took out a third of the population of London. Not nice, the Middle Ages.
And you don’t have to cough or sneeze to spread it. Every exhale is sucked up and swirled around by the office HVAC system – now cranked up as the days get colder, spreading to everyone.
Don’t think that the system’s HEPA filter will take out the bug either. High Efficiency Particulate Air filters are only efficient down to 3 microns – and at 1.5 by 0.75 microns, Yersinia pestis is only half that.
So if you’re one of those company heroes who insist on coming to work even though you’ve got a cold, you could be putting the whole office at risk. Even cause it to shut down before the end of the day tomorrow. Productivity zero.
Just as it would be if the office came down with any other bug. Mild ones like colds and ordinary flu. Or serious threats like the Aussie A (H3N2) virus, MERS, SARS, e.coli – or any one of a thousand lethal hazards all the way to cholera and typhoid.
Unless you deploy a defence. Send home anyone who looks suspect immediately – because all the symptoms look the same ion the early stages. Then protect the whole office from ALL germs altogether.
Fighting back – effective protection
Sterilising the office is the easiest way. Misting the place up after work with ionised hydrogen peroxide that reaches everywhere and oxidises all germs to nothing.
Next morning, the whole place is sterile. No germs anywhere except what people bring in on their skin sand clothing. A germ-free clean sheet to start the day – with a 6-Log Sterility Assurance Level.
Worth doing anyway on a nightly basis – we’re all of us off-colour with some minor bug or other every 3 days. And with so many of us working on top of each other all grouped together, the office is a sure place to pick them up.
Off our phones, keyboards, light switches, door handles, and lift buttons – or simply from the documents we keep handing around.
Plus on our desks and coffee cups – while we work through our lunch break. Chomping away on a chicken salad wrap, oblivious to the germs in the grit and dust bunnies we don’t always wipe off before we start noshing.
Restoring full productivity
A long way from the Middle Ages, yes.
But with Twenty-First Century protection like hydrogen peroxide, we can afford to be.
Our full 100% selves all of the time – not out of it 57.5 days a year like we usually are, sitting at our desks and struggling with yet another bug.
Productivity plus – with the feelgood that goes with it.