Tag Archives: contamination

Sick on holiday: fake claim or genuine, why it’s usually your fault

Fake travel sickness
Yes, we can be unlucky – but with food poisoning we’re most of us red-handed

Fake claims are in the news lately.

Food poisoning, mostly.

Massive demands that backfire as travel firms put up a fight. Big penalties too.

£25K for a woman in Wales.

An upcoming dispute already topping £52K for a family in Liverpool.

Not the holiday bonanza anyone was hoping for. And bad for all of us, fake claims like these are on the rise.

Yeah well, with in-your-face “ambulance-chasers” tempting us to make get-rich-quick claims right there on our sun-loungers, we ought to expect hotels and travel companies to play hardball.

Sure, being ill on holiday is the pits and feels like the end of the world. But if it’s really genuine and LOOKS LIKE IT, as long as we get medical help and advise our accommodation people immediately, there should be no problem.

Fake claim, false blame

It is after all, not easy to fake high temperature, body sweats, continuous vomiting and diarrhoea.

That said though, there’s still the awkward reality that it’s most likely our own fault.


Because food poisoning is basically all about contamination. We ingest germs with whatever we eat, our bodies react, we get sick.

And our own hands – which go everywhere and do everything – are the most contaminated of all.

Not that we want to accept that.

When food poisoning strikes, we usually blame (or our solicitors do):

  • Kitchen staff not washing THEIR hands in preparing food
  • Dirty kitchen utensils
  • Mix-ups of raw and cooked meat
  • Food prepared in a dirty environment
  • Hazardous chemicals (like cleaning agents) contaminating food
Hygiene from hell

But we’re not so goody-goody ourselves. Even when we’re at home, our hygiene record is scary.

On holiday, it’s even worse.

Because, think about it – we’re out and about, doing stuff. Who wants to stop and wash hands?

On the go all the time, we’re trying to maximise our experience. In a few days, we’ll have to fly home again.

So we’re up at sparrow’s tweet and never let up. Rushing here, cruising there – no chance to even think of washing hands. And often with nowhere to do so, even if we wanted to.

Uh huh.

So whatever it is, lunch or dinner, there’s often a whole day in front of sitting down at table. And our hands have touched everything imaginable on the way.

Down the hatch – oooh!

And guess what?

Few of us are in the 12% of hand washers, so we just sit there and scoff.

And because it’s holiday, odds are likely that we’re eating straight with our hands.

Burgers, pizza, wraps, sandwiches, fish and chips, kebabs, ice creams – they’re all feelgood holiday favourites we can’t get enough of.

So it’s down the hatch and licking our fingers, with nary a thought about clean anything – unless our hands are VISIBLY dirty. Fake confidence.

Four hours later – ooh, I don’t feel so good.

Now whatever it is kicks in and ruins the holiday.

Norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter, e.coli, c.difficile – they all give us the runs and have us spewing our guts out.

But don’t worry. That nice man at the poolside said just get a chemist’s receipt for Imodium and you can claim it all back – EasyJet, care hire, the hotel, everything.

Reputation management

Yeah, right.

One finger pointing, three others pointing back.

For a hotel or restaurant to fall down on hygiene is bad news – even in darkest Peru.

There’s reputation at stake, a licence to lose, a whole livelihood to go down the tubes.

Which means sure, slip-ups happen. But they’re not the norm.

Unless we’ve lucked onto a place teeming with cockroaches and unlikely to pass ANY inspection short of a shutdown, it’s usually our own fault.

Which is dumb when you think about it, because it’s the easiest thing in the world to carry antibacterial wipes or gel. In our handbag or pocket, it goes where we go – our hands can always be safe from germs.

Plus before  we start pointing fingers, most food places are pretty strict about their own standards of hygiene. Tourists bring money, so you can bet everything that can be cleaned will be. Wiped down with bleach, swept, polished and vacuumed within an inch of its life.

In some places, even clobbered with hydrogen peroxide mist to take out ALL the germs. No chance we can fake our way out of that.

Walk in there and the whole place is sterilised. Any hint of food poisoning and they’d probably string us up.

OK, we’re getting itchy feet. Already packed for next week. Passports and boarding passes at the ready.

Got the hand wipes and the gel?

No need to fake anything, just have a good time.

Should our hospitals work like crime scenes?

Crime scene
The cops can teach us a thing or two about avoiding contamination

Calm down Doc, no-one’s casting nasturtiums.

Truth is, the cops have got something you could maybe use Big Time. Better control of overall hygiene. Stop HAIs dead in their tracks.

Because if you’ve ever watched news coverage of any crime scene investigation, you’ll notice the rozzers are paranoid about one thing – avoiding contamination.

Strict procedure

First thing they do is secure the area – like isolating a patient in quarantine. Nobody in, nobody out – unless properly authorised, signed for and logged. No unwanted outside influences.

Then the SOCO team arrive – Scene of Crime Officers in their bunny suits. Full body covering, face masks, gloves and booties.

Familiar territory?

You bet. Modern crime scenes lean heavily on microbiology – trace evidence, DNA and epithelials. To nail the bad guy, they can’t afford the cops’ own body substances corrupting the evidence.

Uh huh. Exactly like scrubbing and gowning up for surgery. Medics can’t afford to take chances with possible infection. Everything is clinically clean and sterile – anything that touches the patient has to be safe.

Slight difference though, isn’t there?

The cops are concerned their own presence can skew the results.

The biological “life” cloud

They’re better aware of the human biome – that the body is surrounded by billions of bacteria, trailing around like a cloud. That the skin gives off billions more bacteria, along with secretions and the constant sloughing off of dead skin cells.

Because of this sharp awareness, they can secure a conviction from the DNA of a single hair. And it’s already on the cards that just sampling the air of a crime scene may soon yield the identity of suspects entirely from biome traces left behind – long after the bad guy left the building.

Avoid contamination, nail the perp.

Not quite how it works in hospital though, is it?

Because there’s one element the patient on the operating table is not protected from.


The medics are all gowned and sterile, but the patient’s biome is all over the place – floating around the table and throughout the OR.

Blood pressure, check. Pulse, check. Respiration, check. Temperature, check. And what about a pre-op wash? Never mind the screening for MRSA or whatever – one incision and that patient could be self-infected, from normally dormant pathogens suddenly finding an entry into the body.

Something is a little skew about how we prep for hygiene.

Slightly oops

From personal experience of three operations in two hospitals – two hernias and a quad repair – patients themselves are not scrubbed and sterilised the way that doctors and nurses have to be.

Sure, they’re wearing a hospital gown and out cold under general anaesthetic, but they could have breezed in before that, straight off the street – no shower, no bath, not even a hand scrub – maybe even bypassing the hospital’s own sanitising gel stations.

And here it is, direct from the Nursing Times: “Patients should wash or shower using soap and water the evening before surgery.”

The evening before! How many billion billion germ opportunities could that be?

OK, so the op’s a success and the patient goes to the recovery ward. Lots of people with lowered resistance. Lots of incisions and holes for tubes, drips and cannulas.

So in come the relatives, also straight off the street. Ordinary street clothes, trailing outside biome plumes, frequently side-stepping the sanitising gel stations – not even using the one at the foot of the bed.

Yup, you’d better believe it. Only one in three visitors ever uses the things.

People with a dodgy hygiene record too. Rushed and forgetful like the rest of us, wanting to show care and concern – but often the biggest infection risk of all.


Sloppy hygiene

Not the way the cops would do it.

Prevent contamination, right?

Which, in The Force, would mean hand gel is obligatory – orders are orders. And containing biomes is paramount – everybody fully enclosed in bunny suits. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full, sir.

Even then, there’s still a major risk of HAIs.

Straight in off the street – it’s cold out there, central heating in here – patients in T-shorts with the bedcovers flung back.

You got it – nose sniffles. Inevitable.

Not cold or flu or anything – but for the first ten minutes, running like a tap. Both nostrils, high up – from the same place where staphylococcus bacteria normally reside passively, or their methicillin-resistant cousins, MRSA. Harmless enough unless something happens.

Harmless as in pat on the cheek or a handshake. Or simply just breathing out, more microbes to join the visiting biome. Potentially lethal if the germs run amok. 80 people die of MRSA every year.

Prevention before cure

At a crime scene, the cops put up a tent – to keep out prying eyes and stop the weather destroying the evidence. The sun to dry things out. The rain to wash them away. Footprints, bloodstains, tyre tracks.

In hospital there’s a Hypersteriliser – as long as staff aren’t too rushed and busy to use it. Every ward made sterile before occupancy by misting up the place with ionised hydrogen peroxide. All viruses and bacteria oxidised to nothing – zero germ threshold. Zero contamination.

Maybe hospitals are already more like crime scenes than we think.

In which case, nice one Doc.

See? Nobody having a go, everybody all on the same side. Just like the cops.

Except those chancers who will not gel their hands.

Well, only one way to deal with them.

“Hey you. You’re nicked!”

Major infection threat from hospital visitors

Worried visitors
More harm than good –
unless you use the gel


You’d think we’d know better.

All of us concerned friends and family, visiting sick relatives – and we’re helping to make them sicker.

We know they’re ill, right? That’s why they’re in hospital.

Where we know they’re vulnerable too.

It’s gonna be our fault

All those accident wounds and surgical cuts increase the risk of infection. Especially with so many antibiotic-resistant superbugs like MRSA on the rampage.

Right now ordinary operations like caesareans, chemotherapy, C-sections or biopsies are becoming impossible simply because the drugs don’t work any more.

On top of that there’s a whole witch-hunt going on that NHS hospitals are failing patients through an inadequate care.

And then we show up. Ordinary Tom, Dick and Harriet people – and probably the worst threat yet to catching germs in hospitals.

It’s easy to see why.

What sanitising station?

When we get to hospital, we go blundering in – hey, ho, here we go – what do you mean germs?

Yeah, well. If any doctors or nurses did that, they would get the chop. Busy like you can’t believe, but not one of them goes on duty without a good scrub-up.

They do it again between patients too – proper hot water, soap and brush, the full five-minute job. And with responsibilities pulling them every which way, they’re horrified if they ever get stampeded past it in the heat of the moment – but at least there’s sanitising gel stations everywhere.

Not like us.

There’s in-your-face sanitising stations everywhere you look in hospitals these days – but none of us seems to use them. Blind as a bat and full of ourselves, we never even know they’re there. With one or two exceptions of course – like grandma and grandad, worried about doing the right thing.

No, in we go – each trailing our bio-aura cloud of accompanying bacteria. Hands unwashed, untreated or anything. Straight off the street from whatever we were doing. Anything up to 10 million germs on each hand – dirt, food and faecal matter. Not a care in the world.

Contamination plus

Then it’s hugs, kisses, holding hands, refilling the water glass. If we knew any nurses did that without washing their hands, we’d kick up stink all the way to Westminster.

But not us, we’re a law unto ourselves – and most of us never wash our hands anyway.

So is it any wonder that patients stay in longer and get complications – that Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) are on the up?

There’s the professional medics taking flak for lapses in procedure and hygiene – when all the time we’re this bunch of uncaring bozos, infecting the place left, right and centre and not even knowing that we’re doing it.

Check it out, it’s a hospital. Most of the time always meticulous about hygiene, guarding against germs and keeping things clean. Yes, there are lapses – as always when people are rushed off their feet, doing multiple jobs at once. Too many patients, too many complications, most of them from germs which WE put there.

And then there’s us.

Careless too

Coats and scarves spread over the bed. Coughing and sneezing because it’s winter out there. Hands unwashed since breakfast or before – not even after the loo.

Filthy mitts (yes filthy because you can’t see germs, they’re too small) all over the high-touch areas that patients touch too – bedside cupboard, bed table, grab rails. Re-adjusting pillows that they’ll breathe into later, pulling up the blanket that their hands rest on, reading.

If matron had the slightest idea how we’re contaminating her patients, she sling us out on our ear.

She does of course, but she’s not allowed to. Misplaced courtesy and tolerance. Ideally, she would lock her patients away – restricted visitors – like in ICU. Not to penalise patients, but protect them from us – walking germ factories with our sloppy hygiene.

Think we’re kidding? Hospitals are where people are already down, resistance low from whatever their condition. Any hole, any incision, the slightest break in the skin and they’re vulnerable to infection.

And have they got holes. Wounds from surgery, tubes, pipes, wires into the body – even a simple drip puts a cannula on their wrist.

You can see it happening, can’t you. Tolerant Mum with her newborn second, letting her first-born explore all the tubes. Germs straight in, intravenously. Whoops – staphylococcus aureus, or a urinary infection. Another week in hospital. More headlines about inadequacy.

Unclean like the plague

Yeah, we’re bad. So bad we shouldn’t be allowed in.

Not without a facemask and hands gelled so they show up under UV light – just like getting into nightclubs. No stamp on your wrist, you can’t come in. No glow on your hands, stay out of the ward.

But it won’t happen, will it? We already don’t wash our hands and then wonder why we get gastro after eating a burger. The penny never drops.

And so we go on. Visitor monsters.

Do we have to become patients ourselves to learn about proper hygiene?