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.
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.
Unkindest of all, this time it’s the Royal Navy – 70 of our finest youngsters struck down with norovirus at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall. Been going for ten days too, difficult to get rid off.
Which means it’s serious. Because when the Navy deal with medical issues, they do it properly. Isolate the victims, blitz their quarters with disinfectant, restrict all contact.
The Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease
But that’s norovirus for you. Or the vomiting winter bug, whatever you want to call it.
More accurately, the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.
Because that’s the biggest cause. And the surest way it spreads. From unwashed hands.
Highly contagious and at home on the perfect environment of our slightly moist hands at a pleasant 37 degrees Celsius – a guaranteed outbreak every time, simply because our personal hygiene is dangerously slapdash.
Oh yes, it is.
A staggering percentage of us NEVER wash our hands after going to the loo. 68% of men, 40% of women.
Even more shocking, NINETY-FIVE PERCENT of us don’t wash our hands properly. A six second rinse under the tap and we reckon we’re done.
Actually worse than useless.
Because though we let germs thrive on our hands by not washing them, WET hands amplify the risk. And there’s nothing like a pair of warm, wet hands for germs to increase and multiply.
What’s wrong with us,? Do we have a death wish?
It’s not just that we don’t wash our hands. We then go right ahead and use those same hands to eat with. Transferring the germs onto our food – and then deliberately ingesting it.
Not just norovirus either. It could be whatever our hands have come in contact with. Salmonella, campylobacter, c. difficile, e. coli – any one of which could kill us for our carelessness.
Or if not kill, be very unpleasant. A nasty 6 hours in the barf-room, cramps like you can’t believe, the never-ending runs, and headache from dehydration. Two or three days of the end of the world with your bum on fire all the time.
And we actually WANT this?
We already half-know that norovirus is behind around 50% of all tummy bugs – and we still don’t wash our hands.
We’re even in denial – a lot of the time blaming the cause of our sudden sickness on something else. Exactly why we call it the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.
Take any visit to a restaurant – posh nosh or fast food, it makes no difference.
Just to stay open any of those places has to satisfy pretty strict hygiene laws. They get inspected too. Anything wrong and the place gets shut down.
Which means that in most food places, all of the professionals running it are unlikely to take chances. The kitchen will be meticulously clean and the staff will wash their hands regularly. So will the serving staff, with the maître d’ watching them like a hawk.
Quite possibly the place is sterilised every night too – with one of those Hypersteriliser jobbies. Every day when they open for business, it’s totally germ-free. No viruses, no bacteria, nothing.
You can see where this is going, can’t you?
It’s the dinerswho don’t wash their hands. The eaters.
Straight in off the street and sitting down at the table with never a thought of hygiene.
With hands that maybe haven’t been washed for hours. Strap-hanging in the tube, pawing escalator hand-rails, in and out of the loo, shaking hands with others doing exactly the same thing.
Which means it isn’t necessarily the pâté de foie gras that’s off. It’s the germs from the breadstick clutched by the grubby paw of the big deal who rocked up by taxi and demanded the table with the best view.
Self-infected – with Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease. How stupid is that? (Tweet this)
The blame game
And then of course, it’s bad-mouthing the restaurant which had nothing to do with it. One accusing finger pointing – and another three pointing back.
But it could be any of us. Because when was the last time you washed your hands in a restaurant before eating? And in a fast food joint?
No, it’s not a joke. In fact chowing down a take-away burger is even more of a risk, because what else are you touching while you do it?
Over-reacting? Don’t count on it.
These days if you come down with anything serious, they’ll bung you on antibiotics.
Only, in case you haven’t heard, the Docs are getting shy of doing that because the bugs have developed resistance – they don’t work any more.
Back to the Dark Ages before antibiotics were invented. All you need is for your norovirus to develop complications, and you’re on a one-way ticket to oblivion.
Life and death
Not worth it for a little soap and water, hey?
Or some of that disinfecting gel, if you can’t get to a bathroom.
Nobody’s going to laugh if you sit at the table and treat your hands. And it works better than those hot towels the posh places offer – safer too.
It might seem like nothing, but it’s actually life and death.
Norovirus again – and from the looks of it, full-on gastro. Holiday dreams of a fortnight afloat, sunk in a gut-wrenching nightmare. The price of an unguarded moment maybe in a super-cool cantina in Puerto Quetzal or Puerto Vallarta – where the locals have cast-iron tummies and the turistas drop like flies.
Avoidable, yes. The tacos de frijoles have a certain reputation.
But more likely hygiene issues in an misadventure off the beaten track.
And norovirus is highly contagious.
Get back to the ship before the symptoms set in – an enclosed space shared by 3,000 people – and the inevitable happens, everyone is sick.
Because who remembers to wash their hands and take precautions when you’re having fun? And when it’s difficult to find a place at all until you get back to your cabin?
By then of course, it’s too late. Whoever you touched, whoever you shared food and drinks with – the gastro takes hold like wildfire.
Stop it happening again
OK, the cruise people can’t stop the wayward adventure.
But they CAN minimise the outbreak and control the spread – prevent it reaching all 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew. Fewer people need to fall sick.
Because this is not the first outbreak on either of the ships, Celebrity Infinity or Legend of the Seas. And gastroenteritis is a major recurring onboard sickness as stressed in the US Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) own schedule for Vessel Sanitation.
A weighty document, it details exactly how a cruise ship should be sanitised after an outbreak. The hard way, by rubbing and scrubbing.
“After both ships docked, crews went to work scrubbing down every inch of the cabins and common rooms.”
Not necessarily that effective. If you think of all the inaccessible nooks and crannies that exist on a cruise ship, there are thousands of places a virus could lurk, even after a deep clean sanitation blitz.
Nor can the ship’s HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) air conditioning system do much to filter out the virus. Norovirus cells measure 0.04 microns, but the minimum size a HEPA system can filter out is only 0.3 microns.
The super-fine plasma airborne mist it generates is ionised.
Actively charged, every molecule is vigorously trying to escape from its neighbour. It spreads everywhere by force – the molecules rushing to fill the whole air space and jamming up hard against every surface – underneath, behind, everywhere.
Among the lyrics nay-sayers are objecting to in the new Do they know it’s Christmas song just released by Bob Geldof & Co is “Where a kiss of love can kill you…”
It’s a heart-breaking reality for the people of West Africa, whose love and compassion is denied them by the highly contagious infect-on-contact nature of the virus.
The dignity of dying
It’s been much reported that the custom of touching and kissing the dying and the dead is a major cause of spreading this dreadful affliction.
How dare we be so heartless and uncaring!
We would all be better people for demonstrating such humanity. To show love to the dying is one of the greatest gifts of all. Unfortunately, with Ebola around, it will kill you.
Except maybe we’re not that uncaring – just misplaced in our thinking and unobservant of the ways of others. And maybe a little insensitive.
Here to help
This week, more volunteers flew into Sierra Leone – thirty NHS professionals, advance guard of over 1,000 highly motivated and committed young people.
As trained medics, it will be ingrained in them that patients must be isolated and contact restricted to professionals wearing proper protection. Not wrong, but itself adding to the crisis.
To locals they are the “spacemen” who take loved ones away, denying them the care and support of their family when they need it most. To avoid such heartbreak, they hide sick family members from them, stealing into the jungle to even more remote havens.
But unfortunately not they’re havens at all. How ever far they run, Ebola will kill them for their love. Giving and loving is not on the agenda.
Where’s the love?
That makes it a bleak Christmas for everyone. As a celebration of love and compassion it belongs to the world – for Muslims, Buddhists, Jews and Hindus every bit as much as Christians. Love and compassion are qualities we all seek to show in our actions, 365 days a year.
In fitting tribute, in Germany, Japan and several other places round the world there are shops devoted to Christmas all year round. Such glitz and razzmatazz might overpower the underlying love, but the motive is still there. We care, we need to show it, Happy Christmas.
Which brings us back to Sierra Leone. If we need to show compassion anywhere, it’s here.
Yes, it’s amazing what’s happening. Professionals from around the world – particularly Britain – giving of themselves and risking their lives to be there. Money and resources can buy a lot of compassion.
But where is the love the locals need to show their own?
Well-meaning but insensitive
With our Western ways and perceptions, we steal it away from them just as surely as Ebola does. They can’t touch, feel, kiss, or be together. We rip them apart without knowing we are doing so. No wonder they flee to the jungle.
How would we feel if we were denied access to our own? Our own children, soul mate or parents taken away from us – as if we have committed a crime?
This is the REAL Ebola crisis, isn’t it?
How to let people show love.
And how to be genuine about it.
So a bunch of pop stars get together to make a fund-raising song – they waive their fee but generate more publicity for themselves than they might otherwise have got on their own.
So the concerned among us make donations – dumping the guilt bucket and wallowing in feelgood.
So the gung-ho professionals arrive in West Africa – troops, medicos, nurses, gofers – boots on the ground, determined to stomp out this terrible virus once and for all.
But where’s the Christmas?
Where do the people of Sierra Leone get to show their love for the family who are suffering and dying? How do they show their love and respect for the dead?
Can we solve it with pastors, imams, rabbis and priests?
The hurt is in the heart
Have we any idea how hard it is to ask those people to let go? To get them to accept that it’s out of their hands, those lives are gone – unless by some lucky chance the medical professionals can bring them back again?
All we can do is think of them and try in every way we can. Recognise they all face the long good-bye and try to put ourselves in their position.
Because unlike them, we’re not good with dead bodies. They scare us, even when they’re our own family. A throwback maybe to 350 years ago, when we ourselves were faced with The Plague and in our ignorance we thought the slightest touch could do for us.
Be kind to these people, they’re humans just like us. Take them to your heart and love them in your own way. If the world shows love, maybe losing a loved one may not be so heart-breaking.
Love is the greatest gift of all and Ebola can’t have it.
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.
Oh no! Vomit at the office. Professional cool and polish, gone in an instant. Feeling awful – and degraded – the end of the world.
Not your fault though, right? You couldn’t help it. One minute OK, the next…
Except the inconvenient truth is, it probably WAS your fault. Not deliberate or anything like that, but highly likely it was CAUSED by you.
We’re ALL bad
Now don’t feel bad, we’re all probably just as guilty. Because nine times out of ten your unfortunate experience is not caused by something you ate. More than likely it was from something you swallowed after touching it by hand.
Easily done – that hasty pastry gulped down with your flat white before the all-important 9.00 meeting. Eaten with your fingers, right? You had to lick the icing off afterwards. Four or five hours for the stuff to get down to your gut and react with your internal bacteria…
Excuse me, I don’t feel so good.
Upchuck all over the conference room floor.
The blame game
So how is it your fault? You didn’t do anything. That horrible heave-ho came out of nowhere.
Ah, that’s just the point. You didn’t do anything. And that’s why the rest of us are probably just as guilty. Because the one thing we’re always NOT doing though we know we should, is wash our hands.
Especially after going to the loo and before eating food. Yes, it’s shocking, but 62% of men and 40% of women NEVER wash their hands after going to the toilet.
You can see it can’t you? Running late because the tubes were crowded and you couldn’t get on. Mad dash to the office via the coffee shop. Quick detour to the loo and check make-up. Gulp coffee and pastry – you burnt your mouth remember? Grab your laptop and go. 30 seconds to spare and your presentation was on first. No time to wash your hands – you just got unlucky.
Because most of the time we get away with it. This time, you just got caught.
Better hope it’s not norovirus though – or any of the other real nasties. Four, five hours? It usually takes longer, more like eight. And it won’t be just your fault you made yourself sick – you could bring the whole office down.
You see, norovirus is highly contagious and gruesomely efficient. That’s why it spreads so explosively – the world record for long distance vomit – and don’t even think about the diarrhoea.
OK, so you slink home in a taxi, new silk blouse and your jacket ruined, icky vomit all through your hair. So what happens with the clean up?
Yeah well, it’s one of those accidents nobody is prepared for. Paper towels and dishwashing liquid in the kitchen, bleach if they’re lucky. Wrinkled noses and pulled faces attacking the patch on the carpet. Hopefully the night cleaning crew will fix it when they swamp out in the evening.
Except they won’t be prepared either, norovirus is smarter than that. Shampoo the wet patch, OK. Vomit gone.
And the rest of the room around that? The chair legs? The conference table? The air itself? Norovirus particles are as small as 2 microns, too small to see, finer than cigarette smoke – so they could be floating around for anything up to a week.
Everybody gets it, easy
All it takes is 10 particles, on somebody’s cheek, scraped together as they rub their eye, into the soft tissue round the cornea – next victim, prepped and ready. Picked up by others too – off the conference table, the door handle, the light switch – half a dozen targets.
They go to their desks, wake up their computers. Norovirus on the keyboards, the desk phone, the meeting minutes they circulate to their colleagues.
Tomorrow morning, a dozen staff calling sickies – with more to come because the germs are still in the air, still on all the high-touch areas not processed by the swamp-out team. The whole office down – vomit, cramps, diarrhoea, the works.
Your fault. You could get sued.
Well, yes. To begin with.
But also the company’s.
They have a duty of care to ensure the workplace is safe to work in – the floors are solid, the place doesn’t leak, there’s no mould, or drafts, or rats running around, and you don’t shock yourself half to death flipping the light switches.
And there’s no germs.
How safe is safe?
For instance if legionnaire’s disease was lurking in the air conditioning ducts you’d quite rightly be able to sue them for not providing a safe and secure hazard-free place to work. They’d have to compensate you AND pay to have the condition fixed – possibly even face criminal charges.
Norovirus is no different – and way more common than legionnaire’s disease – more common even than flu or the common cold.
Your company might shrug it off and say it’s not their problem – but keeping desks, chairs, computers, carpets, curtains and the air itself safe from germs is just as much part of their duty of care as making sure none of you freeze to death in winter.
You started it. But everybody else came down with the bug because of them.
You didn’t wash your hands. They didn’t ensure the place was germ-free afterwards. And most of the time everyone just accepts it’s just one of those things. You failed in your duty to yourself and your colleagues. They failed in their duty of care to all of you.
Yet it’s so easily fixable. And just maybe all of you are negligent in not knowing that it is.
Your personal upchuck could have been prevented by soap and water. Or your company could have been smart and put a pack of antibacterial wipes or hand gel on everybody’s desk – because they know that staff are busy and frequently forget to wash their hands – and even though it gets wiped off every night, everybody’s workstation is a major source of hazardous germs.
No, it won’t work with heavy bleach and more elbow grease, rubbing and scrubbing. The smell will be unbearable and the airborne germs will remain untouched. Steam cleaning won’t work either – germs need very high temperatures and at least five minutes contact time to be destroyed – not possible hose-piping around so that everything is wet – ineffective against airborne germs too.
More effective and far cheaper is to eliminate germs with a Hypersteriliser.
After the usual cleaning, a wheel-bin-sized unit is rolled in to mist up the place with ionised hydrogen peroxide. Electrostatically charged, microscopic particles of hydrogen peroxide actively clamour to get away from each other, spreading everywhere, forcing themselves into every crack and crevice to escape.
That same electrostatic charge causes them to reach out and grab at viruses and bacteria everywhere – on surfaces, under them, behind things, in the air itself. Contact time is only seconds, during which the germs’ cell structure and DNA is completely destroyed.
Sterile and safe
Allow forty minutes to process the entire room and the whole place is sterilised – no germs, no nothing – safe. No law suits either, or anyone suffering upchucks. Unless they forgot to wash their hands before climbing into lunch – or there really is something off with their chicken liver pâté – not cooked enough, perhaps.
Feel better? If it’s any consolation, norovirus only lasts two or three days – unpleasant yes, but it does come to an end.
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.
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.
On top of which, 95% of us don’t even wash our hands properly.
Uh huh. And if you think about it, when was the last time ANY of your customers might have washed their hands before they came to you? Five minutes ago? Before lunch? If at all?
Now the common sense bit.
So someone’s moaning norovirus. Is it one person or a handful?
If it’s just one person, you can suspicion a mouse.
Like how come, if you serve several chicken liver pâtés over a day, that only one was off? You’re a business, right? So most of your stuff to some degree or other is all made in batches – it saves time and stops the customer waiting.
So if one of your pâtés was off, they all should have been, right? You should have a dozen complaints about tummy cramps and upchucking, not just one.
And if all the others were OK – batch-made, remember? – why was that one portion different? They were all the same when they went to table, the only difference was the customer they went to. You can’t prove it, but that one customer’s norovirus misery was probably self-inflicted.
Same thing if it starts with just one customer – and then a handful more, hours or days later. Norovirus spreads by transfer. So your customer had his mitts all over the butter knife or salad servers and the rest of his table picked up the bug.
Bad this, because the ripple effect can spread wider. A few hours more and a whole stack of customers are moaning and clutching their tummies. Either by touch, or through the air, the norovirus has got to them and is giving them hell.
A whole lot of people out of action, but all triggered by Customer Zero – the common denominator.
When you know it’s you
Because if everybody all comes down with it at once, you know it’s YOUR fault. Something or someone engaging with your customers is contaminated – they’re all exposed at the same time, they all come down together.
OK, you know what to do – or do you?
Maybe you’ve read about those hospitals and cruise ships where norovirus keeps coming back. The same will happen to you if you’re not careful.
This stuff is highly contagious and VERY efficient at spreading. With violent vomiting particularly, norovirus gets everywhere. It’s a virus too, don’t forget. Which means every cell is tiny. Small, as in, it can fall THROUGH a roofing tile without stopping.
Which means among all the other things it is, it’s airborne. It rides the air – swirling, twisting, spreading, turning – so light that it may never reach the floor. So it’s on the walls, on the ceiling, on the light fittings, and under the tables all at once. In the air throughout your whole place too. Blown around by the air conditioning, the rush of air as people come in the door.
And it can survive in all of these places for up to ten days or more.
So you scrub the place down with carbolic and everything – and next day one of your waiters walks into a floating cell that takes him in the eye. Four hours later, he’s vomiting too – and you’ve only just re-opened after clearing up the last lot.
Or it could be somewhere else. On the maître d’s lectern, all over the PDQ machines. First person who keys in a total – boom, they’ve got the runs within hours.
And if not there, there’s plenty of other places. All unreachable or just never thought of. Brushing against people as they walk through the curtains. Among the cushions on the banquette. Or the one everybody forgets, all over your stack of menus.
How long is it going to take to clean all those places? Can your cleaning cloths reach into those cracks where a virus only 2 microns across might lurk? There’s millions and millions of places, can you be sure to catch them all?
Press the button and it mists up your place with an ionised cloud of hydrogen peroxide – electrostatically charged to spread everywhere, actively reaching out and oxidising viruses and bacteria as it does.
Forty minutes, an hour, and the place is sterile. No more norovirus. No more repeat infections either.
Until the next customer breezes in straight off the street and climbs straight into the stuffed olives while the table’s main course is processing.
There’s a cure for that too. Don’t put anything on the table until every customer is handed an antiseptic hand wipe, courtesy of the house.
OK, now let them blame all they like.
Ooh my tummy, I’m going to hurl, blame, blame, blame.
Read the headlines, and the world is a scary place.
Not as scary as everyday living though – and a lot more dangerous than we might like to think.
Yes, terrorism is awful – and yes, it is deadly. Last year it claimed the lives of 32,727 people worldwide.
Bad & badder
But no lesser person than President Obama claims that global warming is MORE dangerous. Well yes, if you think in natural calamities like hurricanes and tsunamis – the jury is still out long-term.
Closer to home, European statistics put road accident deaths at 25,700 last year – not far off the total for UK deaths from sepsis, a form of blood poisoning that nobody’s heard of, but which is a major killer just the same.
But still chicken-feed against what COULD happen. Even obesity is scarier – like two-thirds of adults and a quarter of children.
Top of the list is not terrorism, war, or even natural catastrophe. It’s pandemic influenza – the same killer that wiped out 50 million people in 1918 – more than all fatalities in the whole of World War One.
Our worst nightmare
And it could happen tomorrow.
Lesser outbreaks have already shown how such viruses can spread around the world.
Bird flu, Hong Kong flu, MERS – they just hop on a Boeing, courtesy of some unsuspecting traveller – and they’re there in eight hours, twelve tops.