Tag Archives: cruise ship

Viva Southampton: safe haven from norovirus

Happy girl pointing
Lucky you, it’s over – because norovirus feels like the end of the world

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.

Think big

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.

Almost unstoppable

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.

Originally posted 2015-05-06 12:37:00.

Why go sick when you don’t need to?

Cruise ship passengers
All that money – and the best time of your life – don’t let a bug ruin it all

Think of it as a warning.

As the weather warms and thoughts turn to holidays, the first of this year’s cruise ship tummy bug outbreaks hits the headlines.

Two San Diego-based cruises to Central America and back at £1,000 a pop just for starters. Sick at sea again.

The onboard tummy bug

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.

All it takes is a number of onboard Hypersterilisers – the whole ship sterilised by hydrogen peroxide plasma – a zero germ threshold throughout, no viruses or bacteria anywhere.

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.

Reinfection threat

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.

Even though the ship has been thoroughly processed, norovirus can survive on hard surfaces for seven days or more.

By which time the ship is back in Central America in the middle of its next cruise – all ready for the new crop of passengers – with no clue where the new outbreak is coming from.

Which is why the Hypersteriliser is so vital.

Force-fed dispersal

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.

And of course, deep into cracks and crevices.

Even better, the actively charged mist is attracted to viruses and bacteria like a high-powered magnet – grabbing them and ripping them apart by shoving oxygen atoms at them.

No germ can survive, the ship is sterilised. Any source of infection now is brought on board as food or cargo – or on the persons or in the baggage of newly joining passengers.

No bugs next time

No norovirus, no bugs of any kind. Nobody coming down sick. Your holiday is safe.

You might want to mention that to your cruise line before you embark.

Two weeks is a long time to be ill when you’re not seasick.

Originally posted 2015-04-15 11:01:37.

Woohoo, back to school! But norovirus says NO

Crosspatch at gate
School’s closed because norovirus keeps coming back and back – why can’t somebody DO something?

No school, no friends, no play, no fun.

Just staying at home, feeling horrid.

A whole week after that nasty tummy bug. Sick like your whole insides want to come out. Fiery poo, squirting round like a hosepipe. Cramps like your tummy is broken into little pieces, all churning round.

Quarantine, Mummy calls it. But I’ve been OK for days now.

It’s because they can’t get the school clean.

Cheap cleanups won’t stop norovirus coming back

Those two Year 6 boys were sick all over the place – all down the corridor and right through Reception. It was on the carpet and splattered up the walls.

Then that stupid Mrs Ferguson let her class out and they ran all over it. Just the smell was enough to make you sick.

But being home and suddenly sick was worse. Just going to play with my Pokemon and my tummy exploded.

I cried ‘cos it went everywhere and Mummy made us all stay home. Even Daddy never went to work.

Anyway the holidays were horrible – and now school is closed. Why can’t they clean it properly?

Mrs Callum, she’s the bursar, told Mummy they had a whole team in over the break. Face masks, overalls and rubber boots, scrubbing everything with that ewey bleach stuff.

It didn’t work ‘cos the caretaker, Mr Absun, went in there and got sick, working in the hall. So Mrs Callum got cross and they had to do it again – then SHE got sick after going in to have a look.

Keeping paying until it’s right

Mummy says that’s when the Council sent in the steam cleaners.

Two days they were at it, then Mrs Callum got sick AGAIN. So now the school’s in quarantine, just like I am at home. They’re leaving it 10 days for all the germs to go away.

Except Mummy says that won’t work either – she looked it up on her iPad and this norovirus stuff can last for up to a month if they don’t clean it off properly. You pick it up on your fingers and pouf – it’s back!

Meanwhile I’m sitting at home every day and I’m bored. And Mummy’s very nice staying here to look after me – but she doesn’t want to be here either. What’s the matter with them, why can’t they make it go away?

Because it goes everywhere, Mummy says. In all the cracks where the cleaners can’t reach.

And I know she and Daddy are cross, because the school has asked them for money to pay for it. Daddy had his fierce look, asking why they should pay for something that doesn’t work. He wanted to throw things, but Mummy took them away from him.

Every year, again and again

It was the same last year when Linda Marshall came back from that holiday in the Caribbean. Their family got sick on a cruise ship and brought it back with them. Daddy got cross then too, ‘cos I didn’t get it, but Damon did – my younger brother in Linda’s class.

Daddy’s really fed up. Says the school should have something to cope with stuff like this. Or the Council should. It’s not like this tummy sickness happens every day – but three-four times a year somebody sicks up at school, then we all get sick or have to stay away, and nobody does anything.

They need a machine, Daddy says. Something that you press a button and it makes all the germs go away.* Otherwise they’ll keep paying money and nothing ever happens.

Oh I wish that school would open and I can play with my friends again!

*There IS a machine – and you can see it here. It kills all germs everywhere indoors in about 40 minutes. Sterile, so they can’t come back again. Grabbed out of their hiding places and oxidised to nothing by hydrogen peroxide.

Picture Copyright: dekanaryas / 123RF Stock Photo and corund / 123RF Stock Photo

Why most “deep cleans” cannot get rid of germs

Exhausted cleaner
However hard you scrub, you’ll never get rid of the germs

It’s not for want of trying.

Bleach so strong it can take your head off. Scrubbing till fingers ache.

Surfaces spotless, floors gleaming – and STILL infections break through.

All the nasties – norovirus, MRSA, flu. Outbreak after outbreak, all in the same place.

Why?

Because the job’s not done until it’s done is why.

80% not good enough

Despite all the effort, conventional wipe-clean methods are just not good enough. Viruses and bacteria survive however hard cleaning teams try. In corners, cracks and crevices where surfaces meet. In the grooves between tiles. Clinging to coils of wire and tubing. Under cupboards, behind consoles, on top of lockers. On walls and ceilings.

And of course, all through the biggest part of any room – the air.

It’s pretty well 80% of any room – the space we move around in. We don’t see anything in it, so we assume nothing is there.

Not like the exhaust pipe of a car. We know that air is dirty – smoky, unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. It’s bad and we can smell it.

But there’s nothing in this room that’s just been cleaned – just the lingering smell of bleach. It’s clean, right? There’s nothing there.

Deep cleans only touch the surface

Actually, we’d be dead if there was. No oxygen for us to breathe.

No anything else either. No carbon dioxide for plants to breathe. No nitrogen to enrich the soil. No water vapour to keep our skin hydrated. None of those tantalising particles given off by fresh coffee, sizzling bacon, or newly baked bread.

No dust, no lint, no plant spores – hang on a minute! There’s a whole plethora of stuff up there, and we don’t see any of it – all solids suspended in the air.

We don’t see germs either – and they’re up there too. Smaller than pretty well any of them. Like a single particle of oxygen is 0.0005 microns across – half of one-millionth of a millimetre.

Uh huh. And a single cell of rhinovirus, otherwise known as the common cold, is a mere twenty-fifth of that – 20 nanometres or 0.00002 millimetres. Like most germs, small enough and light enough to ride the air without ever coming down. Unaffected by gravity because the other particles surrounding it are denser than it is.

So yeah. The AIR is full of germs, all the time. Good bacteria, bad bacteria – and viruses like you can’t believe. Billions and billions of them.

Which is why your average deep clean doesn’t stand a snowball’s against them.

Sure, the surfaces get cleaned – but that leaves 80% of the room space completely UNTOUCHED!

It’s in the air

So to make a room safe means to clobber viruses and bacteria in the air – as well as on all surfaces. Plus get into all the nooks and crannies that never get attention – the dark underworld of repeat infections.

Which means whatever is doing the cleaning has to have an airborne delivery system.

Exactly why, only back in 2010, that the American Bresslergroup was commissioned to design brand new technology into the award-winning Hypersteriliser – known Stateside as the Halo Fogger.

Hoo boy, now we’re cooking with gas.

Ionised hydrogen peroxide gas plasma to be exact.

Dispersed by an electrically-charged, non-toxic 6% solution of ultra-fine spray mist that attracts germs like magnets – actively grabbing them out of the air and oxidising them to nothing on contact.

That same charge also forces the hydrogen peroxide molecules to try and escape each other – burying deep into cracks and crevices where cleaning sponges can never reach – spreading out hard against walls, ceilings and floors – permeating everywhere.

One button is all you press to start it. Forty minutes is all it takes for the average room to clear. Zero germ threshold to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6 – completely sterile, all viruses and bacteria gone.

All that’s left is oxygen and water – in such small quantities it evaporates before settling – safe for keyboards, cables and electrical connections. Oh, and a superfine layer of colloidal silver – for a protective germ-resistant barrier that lasts up to seven days or more.

A new efficiency

Sure hydrogen peroxide fogging is not new – but not to this level of efficiency.

It’s the ionising that does it – allowing a milder, safer 6% solution to be used – which reaches further, disperses better, and performs better too. The hydrogen peroxide changes state from a gas to a plasma, releasing further antipathogenic performers such as hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone and ultraviolet.

Other systems are more clunky, using the older vaporised hydrogen peroxide spray – stronger and more hazardous at a 35% solution – necessary to disperse the slower-acting, heavier vapour – which also shortens contact time in the air – and needs a drying period to clear wet surfaces afterwards.

Is it worth it?

Sterilising the whole room, that is.

Well if a room starts sterile, there’s no germs for anyone to catch – only from each other with whatever they bring in on their skin and clothing. If there’s a bug going round, chances are good everyone is protected.

Big bucks cost – from a millionth of a millimetre across

But think of the money – especially if conventional deep cleans fail to stop repeat contamination. And especially if they affect a major investment and revenue-earning machine like a cruise liner.

In 2002, Holland America Line’s Amsterdam was forced to abort four consecutive cruises to norovirus, even with deep cleaning after every voyage. And with fares averaging £1,000 a hit for 1,380 passengers per voyage, that’s £1.38 million in refunds every trip.

Plus how much does it cost to take a cruise liner completely out of service and hand clean the whole ship AGAIN – every item down to TV remotes, bibles – and all the poker chips and currency in the casino?

Deep pockets these cruise lines must have – as the owners of another liner – the Star Princess – are finding out. This week she docked in Vancouver with a second outbreak of norovirus in six months. Big bucks, bad publicity – and how many cancellations?

If you’re going to deep clean, at least make sure it’s a process you can afford.