Sorry folks, that famous and long-awaited sleigh ride won’t be happening this year.
Seems that red nose of Rudolph’s is causing major ructions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Alarm bells are going off that it’s a warning symptom of H5N1 or other avian flu – one of the nasty ones.
With only days to this year’s round-the-world distribution trip, the whole delivery team – Rudolph, Santa and all the helpers – are under lockdown. Strict quarantine against any new pandemic breaking loose.
Despite high expectations and the world-famous nature of the trip, looks like the CDC has had Santa and Rudolph under surveillance for a long time.
High on the list of worries is the huge sack of fomites – objects or substances which are capable of carrying infectious organisms from one individual to another.
Though each is individually gift-wrapped and addressed, there are no facilities aboard the sleigh to ensure they are properly disinfected and pathogen-free.
The lack of washing facilities aboard is also identified as a major health risk.
Asked for comment, Santa was overcome by a coughing fit, but did manage to identify that a back-up system was in place.
Prior to departure, presents will be sterilised by longer than usual exposure to the Aurora Borealis at the North Pole. The ultra violet light present in the phenomenon will ensure all viruses and bacteria are removed before take-off.
Actual delivery will be by a fleet of high altitude NASA Global Hawk drones. For Santa watchers, high intensity white strobe lights will substitute for Rudolph’s more familiar red glow.
If it ever happens to you, it’s the end of the world.
You feel like you’re going to die – and then worry that you won’t.
Because norovirus or any of its tummy bug friends is one of the most miserable experiences you can ever have. Having a ball one minute, sick as a dog, the next.
Especially on a cruise ship.
And Southampton is home to some of the biggest cruise ships in the world.
In the just the last month, the city has seen the naming ceremony and inaugural sailing of Royal Caribbean’s hi-tech giant Anthem of the Seas – the first-ever daylight visit from Cunard’s Big Three all at the same time – Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria – and the naming by the Queen of P&O’s brand-new Britannia, before the start of her maiden voyage.
Luckily, none of these giants has yet had anyone struck down by norovirus.
But there’s a reason why cruise ships and norovirus keep hitting the news.
Pretty well all of them range round the world – and one of the most popular cruise choices is the Caribbean.
That inevitably means calling at ports in the USA – and as part of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program, ALL cruise ships have to report ANY cases of gastrointestinal sickness, even if there are none.
Because these ships are themselves celebrities, even the smallest outbreak is therefore likely to hit the headlines. Unfair really, as it gives them the reputation of always having cases – when most of the time, they sail healthy and free, year in, year out.
Make no mistake though, once an outbreak starts, it’s difficult to stop. With thousands of people sharing living space close together, physical contact is almost impossible to avoid. And that’s how norovirus spreads – not just from food, but from simple touch – like a handshake or an arm round the shoulder.
Which very much makes norovirus the price for our own lack of hygiene.
Though it’s hard to believe, many of us don’t wash our hands often enough – especially after going to the loo. And even when we do, it’s just a splash that does nothing, not the two-minute cleaning that professional medics know is the only way to be safe.
The don’t-wash-your-hands disease
Yup, norovirus is the don’t-wash-your-hands disease. (Tweet this)
Maybe a good thing, if it teaches us to take up the washing habit. Because it’s not just norovirus you can catch from not washing your hands. There’s plenty more viruses and bacteria out there, waiting to take you down. So getting away with just vomiting and diarrhoea might be the lucky part.
They know all about norovirus in Southampton – and not just from cruise ships.
Last winter, Southampton General Hospital had to close five wards because of it, and four wards the winter before. This winter it’s four wards again, with a total of forty beds in eight wards affected – a meltdown for hard-pressed medics fighting other conditions as well.
So the medics got clever, with effective measures against it.
The medics strike back
First was to recruit reinforcement nurses to cope with the inundation of cases. Next was to open a new ward of all single rooms – an effective way to isolate infectious patients with norovirus or anything more serious.
But the big problem is fighting norovirus in the first place, as all cruise lines know.
Yes, it’s the don’t-wash-your-hands disease, which is how it transmits and spreads.
It also lingers, able to survive for weeks, even months, on surfaces touched by passengers, ready to transfer to new arrivals and perpetuate the infection. It happened to Holland America Line’s Amsterdam in 2002, which could not break the cycle of repeat outbreaks on four consecutive cruises, despite rigorous cleaning.
Only taking the ship out of commission and disinfecting right down to TV remotes, bibles, poker chips and currency – as well as steam cleaning the carpets and discarding all bedding, fixed the problem.
Both ships and hospitals share the same challenge. To sanitise not just easy places reached by regular cleaning – but to be sure of nooks and crannies in difficult to reach spaces, perfect lurking places for all kinds of germs – and norovirus is only one.
Fortunately, the technology exists to handle this – rapidly being snatched up around the world – first in hospitals, but with cruise lines sure to follow quickly.
Technology to the rescue
A wheelie-bin sized Hypersteriliser mists up previously cleaned rooms and enclosed spaces with an ultra-fine mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide.
A natural sterilant in the body, hydrogen peroxide destroys all viruses and bacteria by oxidising them, ripping their cells apart – in the air, on all surfaces – all without physically touching.
Ionising the mist adds the dimension that it spreads everywhere – forcibly driven deep into cracks and crevices by charged molecules that repel each other – reaching under, behind, and pressed hard against walls and ceilings trying to escape themselves.
The same electrostatic charge attracts the molecules to viruses and bacteria – grabbing at them like a magnet. After forty minutes in the average-sized room, the place is sterile – no germs, no nothing, totally safe – to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6 (99.9999% of pathogens destroyed).
If they’d had a Hypersteriliser back in 2002, the Amsterdam repeat outbreaks would not have happened – unless most of the passengers determinedly didn’t wash their hands for the entire trip – when no doubt salmonella, campylobacter, and all kinds of other nasties would have broken out as well.
They haven’t got a Hypersteriliser yet at Southampton General. But you can bet staff are wishing they had something exactly like it, every moment of the day.
Back Off, Bacteria!is the blog of Hyper Hygiene Ltd, supplier of what we’re convinced is the most effective health protection system in the world. A fully mobile, all-automatic Hypersteriliser machine mists up workplaces with ionised hydrogen peroxide, spreading everywhere and eliminating all bacteria, viruses and fungi.
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.
Because this is one of those “not any more” stories.
Not any more the nasties, not any more the miseries.
Because not so long ago, getting rid of germs was more like getting rid of you.
No more schlep
It took hard scrubbing to get the place clean. With stuff so strong it took the top of your head off. Your eyes ran. You coughed and sneezed. Plus your back ached, your fingers were rubbed raw, exactly as if the germs had got you.
Yeah, well that’s what slaving away with bleach will do. And the place always smells terrible afterwards. Headaches, itchy skin – we’ve all been there.
OK, so the wise guys decided to fog the place up. You still had to scrub, but the germ-killer was spread through the air, hopefully reaching everywhere – especially all those hidey-holes no-one could reach.
Trouble was, that stuff was potent too. Toxic de luxe.
Doing your head in
Have you ever smelt aerosolised formaldehyde? Or those quaternary ammonium compounds? Which is why the CDC recommend not to use them.
Not just yuck. You’d die too, if you were a germ.
Except they don’t, do they? Germs, that is. Not in serious enough numbers at least. The place just stinks and there’s still the risk of infection. But that was back then.
Next thing they tried was ethylene oxide – EtO to the initiated. It killed germs better but was way too potent. A bit too toxic too. Still made you think your head was going to burst.
Hi, hydrogen peroxide
Then somebody had a brainwave and chose hydrogen peroxide – high powered, a known oxidiser, decomposed to just oxygen and water afterwards – what was not to like?
Too watery was the first part. It needed special dryers to get rid of the damp. Which made it dodgy with electrical stuff and computers. Short circuits and things. Risky.
Still too strong was the second part. Sure you can buy hydrogen peroxide at the chemist in a 3% solution. Safe to use at home. But way too weak to spray into the air and clobber nasties like clostridium difficile or MRSA. To do that, you had to rack it way up – 32% and even higher.
Back to the watering eyes and sore throat. And a bit more than that.
Did we mention strong oxidising properties? Because at 32% it’s a bit iffy – strong enough to eat plastic and chew certain metals, a bit too enthusiastic on all kinds of surfaces – especially with repeat treatments.
Ah, but that’s vaporised hydrogen peroxide. Mixed with water and sprayed as thin as possible. That’s why the 32%. Spread out into little tiny droplets it needs all that oomph to be sure of clobbering the germs. And it certainly does that – all viruses and bacteria are oxidised to nothing.
Except 32% is way too hazardous for general use. It needs specially trained staff, work areas have to be evacuated, and everybody needs to wear protective clothing.
Hello, ionised alternative
The revolution is ionised hydrogen peroxide. A safe process that makes it way more effective. And allows it to be milder – only a 6% solution instead of 32%, same as you can buy in Boots for doing your hair. Remember peroxide blondes?
There’s two ways to ionise the stuff – heat or electricity.
Heat is preferred because it is cheaper. All them hydrogen peroxide atoms get hot under the collar until they develop a charge, usually negative – which makes them reach out and grab at pathogens, usually positively charged, like iron filings to a magnet.
Electricity is the clever alternative – and it also means low temperature operation, no risk of melting anything the stuff come in contact with.
At the sprayer nozzle a great fat electric arc charges the parting atoms, forcing them to spread apart from each other because like charges repel. This means the hydrogen peroxide actively spreads itself out and away, reaching deep into cracks and crevices trying to escape from itself. Positively forced dispersal unlike of the vaporised stuff, which just billows like steam.
This spreadability means the droplets can be smaller, finer and ride the air better – especially with the lighter load of the 6% solution. Drier too. No moisture to mess up keyboards or cabling. And of course, too mild to attack surfaces, even sensitive ones.
No compromise on performance though. Ionising physically changes the state of the hydrogen peroxide from a gaseous vapour to a plasma – a charged gas. The effect is like hitting the turbo button. Even more antimicrobials are suddenly produced – hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, super-oxidising ozone and ultraviolet – all of them potent germ-busters. 6% running on steroids.
Souped up performance
A word of caution though. Yes, it’s safe. But this IS hydrogen peroxide and it IS potent, unless you’re wearing protection, stay away. Hoicked up with radicals and stuff, its oxidising strength is way more than the 32% version.
OK, so ionised hydrogen peroxide spreads better, uses a weaker solution, kills germs more effectively, is drier and gentler to surfaces, and still becomes harmless after action, reverting back to just oxygen and water – so little water that it evaporates before it touches anything.
And push button simple with a Hypersteriliser. Just wheel the thing in, connect to power, press the button, and get out of Dodge. Allow forty odd minutes for the average-sized room and the place is totally sterile – Log 6 kill to be precise, 99.9999% of germs utterly gone.
So now you’re safe. From germs, from nasty smells, from carry-over effects.