Tag Archives: fomites

How to catch a plane without catching a bug

Cabin attendant
Welcome aboard our germ-free flight, no norovirus please!

Ready for take-off?

Ready for this year’s bout of norovirus, or whatever it is you’re in for?

Happens every year, right?

Bugs on a plane. Every passenger’s holiday nightmare. Cabin crew too.

And it keeps happening. However much the airlines say they decontaminate their planes.

Everybody’s sick of it

Sure, on short-hauls – from here to the Med and back – there’s not much time for more than a lick and a promise. A quick wipe-down maybe, empty the toilets, grab all the rubbish out of the gangway.

Sometimes not even that. Come and gone in under twenty minutes. So on-board germs get a return trip. Twice as many people to infect. Victims of time-table urgency.

Back at home base though, every aircraft is supposed to get a thorough deep clean. Nose to tail scrub-out “with sodium hypochlorite diluted to a strength of 100mg/l and a 5% solution of formalin, which is itself a 40% solution of formaldehyde gas in water” exactly per the official World Health Organisation cleaning of aircraft guide.

Wipe-down procedures are laid in detail in this impressive manual. Yet still people keep coming down with bugs – cabin crew particularly, exposed to it more often.

What’s wrong?

Are airlines skimping on the job, or are these procedures simply not good enough?

From the looks of it, a bit of both. So if your airline is cutting corners, good luck to you.

But what about how it’s done?

Check out this short clip of cleaning under the seats.

It might look the business, but remember, space is really tight when you’re a passenger, so a lot of stuff winds up under the seats – shoes, bags, snacks, food debris from inflight meals, magazines, nappies, inflight blanket – you name it. Not just on the floor itself, but pushed up on the underside of seats, against the wall, wherever it’s possible to squash something.

Half the job

Uh, huh. But only the floor is cleaned. Thorough enough, but missing out any smears there might be elsewhere. Go through the WHO manual and you’ll see that detailed though it is, there’s lots of other places get missed too – behind things, under things, in the cracks in between things.

Easy places for germs to lurk. Like norovirus. Or Ebola if your aircraft is flying that way.

Which means that even though your plane might be cleaned and disinfected several times over, it can still harbour germs that can get you – as this Air New Zealand case showed up in 2009.

So why aren’t these measures enough? There are measures for avoiding bugs like norovirus, why aren’t they working?

One reason is our mind-set.

If we don’t catch a bug by breathing it in, we think of it as being spread by physical contact – touching each other, or touching surfaces like grab handles, seat backs and armrests (fomites) – actually contracting it through the skin.

ALL germs are airborne

Ahem. Ever noticed what happens when you swirl around in a dusty room? Clouds of stuff everywhere, sometimes so thick you can’t see – floating around, taking an age to settle back down.

Germs are like that – floating around in the air, all the time. And they’re millions of times smaller than a dust speck – invisible, riding the air in their billions – often small enough to go right through your aircraft’s HEPA air conditioning filters without stopping.

Which means clean all the surfaces without cleaning the interior air, and the airlines are only doing half the job. In the still moments at the gate before you step aboard, these germs have time to settle – ready for your hand to make contact on the seat back, as you steady yourself to sit down.

Hello, norovirus.

Unless of course, your airline is using a Hypersteriliser – a machine that kills germs by spraying them with hydrogen peroxide. A lot safer than sodium hypochlorite or formaldehyde – a banned substance anyway in European biocides.

Vaporised hydrogen peroxide is already proven to be superior in ridding germs from aircraft. But by ionising the hydrogen peroxide into a plasma, the Hypersteriliser is even more effective.

Plus performance germ-killing

Two things happen with ionisation.

The hydrogen peroxide molecules become actively charged, like magnets with the same poles together, immediately trying to escape each other. This forces them to disperse in all directions, up through the air and hard up against all surfaces, burrowing deep into cracks to avoid each other.

The charged molecules are actively attracted to the opposite charge of viruses and bacteria, latching onto them in mid-air or wherever they happen to be – oxidising them to oblivion.

The stuff doesn’t clean the plane – that job still has to be done first. But it does get rid of the germs – all of them – to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6.

Your plane is now sterile. 99.9999% of viruses and bacteria – gone. No norovirus, no anything. (Tweet this)

Just the ticket, eh?

You might like to mention this to your airline next time.

It’ll keep you out of trouble – and your cabin crew would be glad to know.

Originally posted 2015-04-23 11:50:32.

Not off work again! Could be infected office

Unhappy businesswoman
It’s not you, it’s the office – repeated illnesses coming back over and over

What is it – cough, sniffle? Or heave, upchuck?

You have our sympathy either way. It’s never nice to be out of it.

And this is a repeat performance?

There’s a lot of it going round, as they say.

Not your fault

Sick building syndrome maybe – when your workplace environment develops an unpleasant and growing condition that can affect people in all kinds of way – headaches, nausea, or even more serious.

Lots of things can cause it – poor air circulation, damp, dust, chemical pollution. Many of which can never come right for structural reasons.

Mould on the walls for instance means water seepage somewhere, and not always a busted pipe. The only thing is to rip the place down and start again.

The price of being social

But not always.

A lot of our ailments are a legacy of working in groups, sharing enclosed spaces – an open-plan office, school classroom, lecture theatre or catering area. Enclosed because it’s cold and wet and dark outside – we need the central heating and electricity.

How many of us are there? 20? 30?

All together in one place because it’s easier to work that way – to talk to each other, interact, stimulate and motivate ourselves. Good thinking, Jim.

Except that pushes up the germ threshold. At least half a dozen of us will have some kind of bug at any one time – either about to knock us out, or wobbling back through recuperation. WAIs – Work Acquired Infections.

Some of us will be more sensitive than others too – more easily clobbered by anything going around.

And yes, it does go around. Not because we’re breathing over each other and touching shared objects (fomites) during the day – the phones, keyboards, documents, coffee machine, whatever. If we’re smart we already know that and wash our hands often.

Oh really? If only that were true.

Against office illnesses

OK, so somehow we all make it through the day – and then we go home.

If we’re working late, we might see the cleaners at their job before we do.

See them vacuum the floors, empty the waste baskets, take out the trash, wipe down the desk tops, spray air freshener. Nice and tidy for the morning.

Hold it right there.

Just because everybody’s gone home doesn’t mean the germ threshold’s gone down.

Whatever viruses and bacteria there are – and there ALWAYS are – are still lingering.

Still on the phones, keyboards, documents, coffee machine, whatever. Still hanging in the air which is around 80% of the room space. Still waiting around for everybody to come back tomorrow.

Uh huh, an infected office and we don’t even know it.

Waiting to get you

Maybe tomorrow we’ll all come down with something – maybe we won’t. A risk we get away with most of the time because our body resistance is good and we lead healthy lives.

It’s still an infected office.

Because vacuum, wipe, spray does nothing to get rid of the germs. The standing germs that are always there. Mostly in the air too. Waiting to be breathed in. Or to grab hold on contact as we walk through them.

Why not? They’re so light they could ride the air for weeks. And even an average bacteria can survive without a host body for anything up to a month.

An infected office, waiting.

So what happens when for some reason our body resistance is down? The baby kept us awake last night, or we had to work seriously late, or we ran 10 kilometres with the lunch-time keep fit mob?

But get rid of the germs and the threat goes away.

No infected office, nobody pulling sickies all the time.

Bunking off now is back to “the dog ate my homework” excuses.

It’s the easiest thing in the world too.

Press button easy

The cleaning team come in, trundling a Hypersteriliser with them.

They swamp the place out as normal, close all the windows and doors, hit the button and leave.

Sixty seconds later, the machine starts misting up the place with ultra-fine ionised hydrogen peroxide – so fine and light it takes on bacteria at their own game.

Because they’re ionised, the fine molecules of hydrogen peroxide spread rapidly – all with the same highly charged energy forcing them to separate from each other.

Super-excited and buzzing, they reach everywhere – driven hard to fill up the entire space – jammed against walls, floors, ceiling and furniture, shoved fiercely into cracks and crevices, trying to get away from each other.

That same charged energy actively attracts them to the opposite charge of viruses and bacteria.

In mid-air, on the fly, or wherever they happen to be, the hydrogen peroxide molecules grab at these germs, thrusting oxygen atoms at them to destroy their DNA and rip apart their cell structure.

World War Three, billions of times over – in a microscope.

Forty minutes later, the place is sterilised safe. The Hypersteriliser shuts down. The mist dissipates into oxygen and water, which promptly evaporates. Eco-friendly natural.

No more infected office. No more bugs to knock you back when you come in in the morning.

Beautiful on the balance sheet

Better still, if you’re the boss – no more absentees, better productivity, a fatter bottom line.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?

Originally posted 2015-04-21 12:07:47.

Your life is in your own hands

Woman in beauty pose
You touch your face
3,000 times a day –
and what else?

We control our own destiny more than we think.

Yes, we choose our own directions – and yes, we drive ourselves at our own pace. It’s by our own efforts, or not at all.

But pretty well none of it is possible without hands. They are the do-ers that make things happen – that turn ideas into reality.

Amazing things, really. They do everything, go everywhere.

And that’s the problem.

Dangerous touches

Because the things they touch are seldom pure. Like everything else in this world, they’re covered in bacteria – some good, some bad. Many transferred on contact to our fingertips or palms.

Germs, right? Invisible microorganisms that can make you very ill or kill you. Impossible to avoid and a continual mission to get rid of. Which effectively means you’re at hazard all of the time.

Well, sort of.

World’s smallest killers

To a virus or bacteria that’s barely a thousandth of a micron across, your hand is an armour-plated tank. Tough and chemically hostile, it offers no way in to the body – an impenetrable no-go barrier to infecting a meal-ticket host.

Ain’t nothing to do with a surface like that except hang on. Which plenty of germs do – upwards of three million of them, around us like an aura every day.

Smart move.

Because it’s what our hands do next that matters.

Touching other stuff.

Beware fomites

Keyboard, phone, door-handle, document, money, clothing, loo seat, poo, wee, Coke bottle, chips, tomato sauce – these are all what are called “fomites”, made famous by Kate Winslet’s character Dr. Erin Mears in the movie Contagion.

Fomites are substances or objects that can transfer germs – your handbag, keys, scarf, watch-strap – triggering a whole roller-coaster ride of infection – where germs get to meet other germs, and gang up together for fun, fun, fun.

Spot the missing touch?

You got it. Your face. Otherwise known as germ heaven. The guaranteed way in for infection – through your mouth, up your nose, in the sensitive bits round your eyes, even your ears.

And without thinking of it, we touch our faces two or three  times a minute – that’s up to three thousand times a day! Three thousand germ-entry opportunities every day of your life.

The missing obsession

Which kind of emphasises the other missing touch – soap and water.

Most of the time we’re so full of ourselves rushing around, we don’t really think of washing hands. Yet if you think of the fomites we encounter doing that, we’re at hazard all the time.

Yes, it is possible to get some protection. Wash everything – tables, plates, knives, forks. Disinfect everything – loos, wash basins, kitchen sinks. All the schlep of daily life.

It’s even possible to sterilise all around us. A dose of UV radiation or misting up the place with hydrogen peroxide will clobber all viruses and bacteria down to nothing – even killers like bubonic plague and Ebola.

But it’s all kind of useless if we traipse into our specially sterilised room and shake hands for an interview straight after a nervous but necessary dash to the WC.

At your peril

Washed your hands?

Er, yes, but that quick rinse under the tap doesn’t crack it. And using the pull-down towel doesn’t help. When the roll is finished, everybody’s germs all wind up on the same piece of cotton.

Ask any medic, and they’ll tell you that a proper scrub-up to get rid of germs takes at least five minutes. And that’s a schlep too – seriously hot water, scouring underneath and scrubbing your nails, getting right down between your fingers – then disposable towels or an air dryer.

And it all needs to be done again as soon as you touch something!

So the Hand Hygiene brigade are not so paranoid after all. This is the flu season, with all kinds of other nasties lurking out there as well – norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter. You can blame other circumstances just so far, but you’ve got to come to the party as well.

Just like everything in life, isn’t it? Keep your hands clean, or it will come back to bite you.

Because it’s pretty silly to die for something that isn’t necessary.

Originally posted 2014-12-02 14:18:57.

Got your business insured against Aussie flu yet?

Biz team against Aussie flu
This year’s Aussie flu is everywhere – unless you’re insured against it

H3N2 it’s called. Three times more horrible and twice as nasty – shouldn’t you be insured against this potentially deadly killer?

So far it’s zapped Oz and France – and already swamped most of UK. Not good, however you skew it.

Got you, right in the balance sheet

Particularly for business. Half your team off, all at the same time. The other half hanging in, waiting for it to hit. Critical jobs stalled, errors all over from battling to cope.

So how are you doing for protection?

You have it for data, of course – insured big time, belt and braces. Encryption from hackers, surge protection on every computer, your servers backed up to the cloud.

But how about your people?

All that data means nothing without them – to shape it, plan with it and drive it forward.

And between them and disaster is a flu jab that’s only 20% effective? Come on, now!

Time to start that quarantine rule you’ve been trying to avoid. The one that sends staff home for ANY kind of ailment – cough-sniffle, tummy cramps, pounding head, the works.

Boy, you’re going to get it

Because, sure as hell, what goes around comes around. So if one of your team gets it, sooner or later they all will.

Forget discipline or calling them wimps. How good is the work quality they produce when they’re sitting there, feeling like grim death?

And how are you going to protect everyone else? Put screens round them and shut off the air-con, just to keep the sick ones up to the mark? Hardly insured at all – good luck with that.

Send them home and they can’t do any damage.

Then get some serious protection going. Antibacterial hand gel or wipes on every desk for a start. Most infections start from things we touch, so clean hands are the first defence.

Getting rid of all germs is next.

If the place is sterile, nobody can catch anything. Not unless they bring it in themselves – and you’ve already triggered the quarantine rule, the first part of being insured.

The workplace war zone

But count on it, there’s germs everywhere – unless you do something.

And good though it might be, that nightly office cleaning service is usually just to make things neat and tidy. Vacuum the floors, empty the trash, give it the once-over.

Meantime, the germs sit unchecked on the high-touch areas – fomites, the experts call them. Touch-screens, keyboards, control buttons, light switches, door handles. And personal stuff like handbags, wallets, keys, money, clothing, you name it.

Plus of course, the air itself – 80% of any room space. Stuff we breathe and move through without thinking. Full of dust, smoke, all kinds of particles – and germs, of course.

OK, so maybe you have an ioniser, or a HEPA filter like they have on jet liners. Except ionisers don’t get rid of anything – it either sticks to plates inside the machine, or to the walls. HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters work better, but only down to particles of around 3 microns – horrible nasty H3N2 is smaller than that.

And anyway, both machines only process the air that sucks THROUGH them. Everywhere else is untouched. Not insured at all.

Just like the bug busters

But despair not, there’s other methods like bug exterminators use – that fumigate the whole place after everyone’s gone home. A lot gentler, but highly effective, they take out germs on all surfaces and from the air itself, making the place sterile like you need.

The alternative?

Well you COULD take out a conventional insurance policy against your staff coming down with anything. Not cheap, if you’re hoping for cover against everything. And unless you pay whopping premiums, you’d still be out of pocket for staff who DID go off sick and all the system hiccups that would cause. Not so hot for your bank balance, or productivity.

One thing’s for certain though. This Aussie flu’s not going away overnight.

Your choice then.

Is your business prepared to take a chance without being insured?

About this blog

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. Achieves 6-log Sterility Assurance Level – 99.9999% of germs destroyed. The only EPA-registered dry mist fogging system – EPA No 84526-6. EU Biocide Article 95 Compliant.

Ooh! Norovirus does the dirty on your wallet too

Businesswoman worried
Being sick costs money – and who can afford an unhealthy bank balance?

It’s that time of year again.

Not that norovirus ever takes time off.

Ask any cruise ship passenger, this stomach-churning nasty strikes in warm weather as well as cold. Blue sky holiday? Holiday blues, more like.

Norovirus season

Right now it’s on the rampage again. Sixty children out of action at a New Forest school last week. Another 32 off yesterday.

90 out of the school’s 350 total – a whole quarter absent and the place is still open!

It might not be an epidemic, but it’s pretty damn close. Because – highly contagious and a hardy survivor – norovirus never lets go.

Contagious is right – 1,000 times more virulent than any flu virus. And if you’ve ever seen how fast coughs and sneezes spread through a bunch of junior school kids, you’ll know what a runaway wildfire flu can be.

Plus norovirus takes 24 hours to happen. So infected kids can mingle with the healthy ones without anybody knowing. The slightest touch is enough to transfer it. Playing tag with stomach cramps and diarrhoea.

The hands have it

Then there’s the fomites. The things children touch that others touch too. Desks, chairs, pencils, pens, door handles, computer keyboards, gym equipment, toys, and everything in the lunch hall.

Norovirus can survive on surfaces without a human host for a week, ten days, or more. Any child touching them catches the bug and perpetuates the spread. Touching other surfaces and other kids, keeping the infection going.

Which is where the costs start snowballing.

Most norovirus outbreaks focus on medical issues. But the money side is just as bad.

In a people-intensive place like a junior school, it’s not just children who go off sick, it’s teachers too. But they have to be paid for, even though they’re not there. So do the supply teachers who come in to substitute for them – assuming the school remains open.

If it gets really serious, closing the school is another cost. The whole staff have to be paid, even though they’re doing nothing.

Piling on the pounds

Then there’s containment. No school can keep the books balanced if it’s closed. So specialist crews have to go in and disinfect the place. Crews that cost money.

They need to be thorough. Most “deep clean” procedures have little or no effect. The virus hangs on in cracks and crevices – even in the air itself. And if the contact time with bleach or whatever the purifying agent being used is too short, the infection bounces back again.

In 2002, the Holland America cruise liner Amsterdam suffered repeat outbreaks on four consecutive cruises, despite rigorous cleaning. A whole cruise liner aborting its mission, four times in a row. 1,380 passengers at a time. 1,380 refunds, 1,380 grumpy complaints to friends who chose other cruise lines.

Plenty, plenty lost revenue.

The deep cleans didn’t work. So the only thing was to take the ship out of commission and disinfect thoroughly – a major income-earning unit off-line for more than a week. With expensive hand treatment right down to the fomites of bedding, TV remotes, bibles – and all the poker chips and currency in the casino.

Not good enough

The New Forest school could easily be the same. Germ-killing bleach is fine if it gets everywhere, but normal wipe-clean methods never do. The virus lives on, under, behind, or on top of things. In inaccessible places, clinging to the walls, the ceilings, the light fittings.

Which means JAM (Just Add Money) and the school remains closed. Because the job has to be done again. And again. Until it’s either fumigated properly, or so long passes that the virus dies out.

Meanwhile, the infected children are all at home. Not in isolation either, there’s other family. Mums running ragged, probably with other children to worry about too. And Dads, escaping to the office, but not immune either. All at risk, because who of any of them ever remembers to keep washing their hands?

So businesses in Southampton, Bournemouth – and all around south Hampshire where these Dads work – start having norovirus outbreaks as well. Key staff off sick and not producing. Work projects stalled, orders not being filled, revenue not coming in.

Suddenly, a price tag that could run into millions. And misery – financial and otherwise – for thousands of people along the South Coast.

All because little Jimmy, or Kieron, or Sally-Anne, or Marguerite did not wash their hands – nine times out of ten, the way norovirus starts in the first place – the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease.

Can it all be avoided? The outbreak contained? All these costs controlled? Life return to normal?

It could be a long process – and a lot of pounds down the drain before anything happens.

To the rescue

Unless of course, Hypersterilisers are brought into play – not just for health’s sake, but to protect everybody’s bank balance.

These deceptively innocent-looking machines destroy ALL viruses and bacteria in a room in around forty minutes. Their super-fine spray of ionised hydrogen peroxide plasma is electrically charged to reach into every remote corner and crevice, grabbing and oxidising germs to oblivion as it does so.

It might take a while to do a whole school – overnight perhaps, running each machine from one room to the next. But once it’s done, the whole place is sterile – no germs of any kind – totally safe.

Of course, once the children come back, they bring their germs with them. Most of the time, OK – assuming they’ve recovered – but often carrying others. Flu, other tummy bugs, MRSA – all kinds of bugs that can’t be detected, because they’re too small to see.

And they’re there alright. Each of us trails a bio-cloud of germs with us wherever we go – and leaves traces behind, wherever we’ve been.

Nae problem.

First, a rigorous drive to get everyone to wash their hands – always after the loo, always before food. Next, nightly treatment with a Hypersteriliser to clobber any germs.

Next morning, back to safe again. No more costs – and bank balances as healthy as the kids.

Rhinovirus: why this tiny germ is one of our biggest headaches

Rhinoceros girl
Make no error, this is a mean, bad-tempered problem

It’s that time of the year again.

As soon as temperatures begin to dip, people start coming down with nasopharyngitis.

Naso-huh?

That’s the egghead’s name for the common cold – more familiar to us as a pain in the neck.

Dribbling misery

Wait, that’s not it either. Colds are commonly caused by rhinovirus. “Rhino” means nose, see – like that Flanders & Swann thing, “the bodger on the bonce” – which is where colds commonly affect us.

A piece of work, this rhinovirus. And like a rhinoceros itself, bad tempered and dangerous – probably because it’s so small, only 20 nanometres across (0.000002 millimetres).

At that size, it’s small enough to drop right through a roofing tile – if it had any weight.

Except being microscopically smaller than a piece of dust, it’s lighter than the air around it – all those molecules of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and all the other “gens” – plus all the pollution and dirt and other microbes hanging around there – you know, the stuff we breath in every few seconds.

It’s also not our only cause of catching a cold, just the most common – sharing its notoriety with around 200 other viruses, so no wonder it has a mean streak. A real full-blown Napoleon complex.

A real health hazard

Maybe your experience is just the runny nose, sneezing – and if you’re unlucky, the whole sore throat thing. Three days and you’re out of it, if the gods are smiling.

Trouble is, so many of us are not always 100% well. So that when rhinovirus strikes, it often triggers worsening of any underlying condition.

And that’s the dangerous bit – inner ear infections, sinusitis, asthma attacks, worsening COPD, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis and bronchitis. Not a thing to be played with.

Why does it strike in winter or when the body gets cold? Get drenched in the rain, even in summer, and your Mum screams, “get out of those wet things, you’ll catch your death.”

She’s right. Because rhinovirus thrives best at slightly below normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit – coolest in the nose, where cold winter air is breathed in and taken down to the lungs, another favourite rhino hangout. It literally likes to chill.

There’s also method in its being so small. It rides the air, spreading more easily. And as we all know, it’s highly contagious. Just one sneeze or cough from the gent with the rolled-up umbrella on the Victoria Line – and it’s the boiled knitting head, calling in a sickie at 7.00 o’clock next morning.

Highly contagious

But it’s not just the air. Rhinovirus spreads on contact with almost anything, the things we touch that transfer it to others – everyday fomites like coffee cups, knives and forks, the soap in the soap dish and even the towels we dry off with.

Dodgy this, because rhinovirus likes to get in mainly through the nose and mouth – and in addition to fomites, we touch our faces maybe 2,000 – 3,000 times a day. Airborne or by touch, if anybody around us has a cold, chances are high we’re going to get it. A real headache.

But we do have a defence. We might be touching infected objects without knowing it, but we can always wash our hands clean afterwards.

Doing it properly, working at it seriously with soap and water gets rid of 99.9% of most germs – what medics recognise as Sterility Assurance Level Log 1 – the most important step in safe hygiene. (The highest is Log 6 – like you get with a Hypersteriliser).

And it’s not just washing – it’s doing it constantly. Every sneeze, every face wipe, is a chance to pass it on to somebody else – you need to wash it off.

It’s likewise in avoiding a cold – particularly in winter when so many people have them. It just pays to wash your hands around anything they might have touched.

Wash, or wipe

Not exactly practical though, walking down the street or jumping on the bus – so a good back-up is to keep a pack of sanitising hand wipes on you at all times.

Nobody wants a cold, especially if you’re feeling slightly off with something else already. It’ll only make it worse, or turn into a full-grown attack.

And though we don’t actually think of the common cold as a killer, around 40,000 people die every year from a combination of colds, flu and low temperatures. Yup, we need to be careful.

Rhinovirus – nobody needs it.

But yes, you can wash your hands of it.

Now arriving – your next nasty illness is in seat 19F

Sleeping woman on plane
Happy holidays – just make sure you don’t bring back any unwanted souvenirs

Makes you cross, doesn’t it?

Or worried.

You’re at your local supermarket, not even on a flight – yet somehow the latest bug has found its way to you.

Bugs are always everywhere

MERS, maybe. Or this year’s flu strain. Norovirus, perhaps. Typhoid, cholerea. Or gasp, Ebola. The latest illness.

Hard to tell in the early stages – they all feel the same. When impending victims don’t even know they’ve got it. But it’s there, incubating.

That woman with the tan, coming back from Las Palmas, for example. The one in 19F.

She looks and probably feels completely normal.

Because she is.

100% OK – full of holiday sparkle – feeling like a million dollars.

Yet in two days the sweats will start. The headache, the feeling tired and feverish, the sore throat, the loss of appetite.

Mistaken identity or emergency?

Aeroplane flu or something more serious? You can never be too careful.

It’ll take maybe another three days to know.

And in that time, how many people will she come in contact with?

How many objects will she touch? (Fomites)

Because if she’s highly contagious, you’ll pick it up in days, without coming anywhere near her.

Easy-peasy, like this. Her suitcase was handled eight times by the time it hit the carousel at Gatwick.

And there it was, lurking on the handle. A special import for you – and she never even knew. This year’s illness – yours for free.

Like, whenever did she clean her suitcase handle? Whenever does anyone?

A hole in your hygiene

And her Mum takes her straight out to Nando’s – a surprise welcome home party with all her girl friends. Big lovies, big celebration, champagne, everything.

And nobody ever even thought to wash their hands.

Which is how you got it.

From one of the girls. Hi, welcome home, hug-hug, mwuh!

Spread by contact.

One week later and it’s on you – direct from the handle of the supermarket trolley.

Well, think carefully now – do you wash your hands when you get home from shopping?

Or when you pack all the stuff away?

Come to that, if the evening meal is a rush, do you wash your hands before leaping into cooking?

All too easy isn’t it?

Self protection

And all too easy to fix.

Just a little soap and water.

Or, if it’s in the air, a good dose with a Hypersteriliser to keep everyone safe at the office.

Oh yes, one other thing.

If you do feel ill, please stay home.

You’ll feel better – and nobody else will get it.

Airborne norovirus from a vomit machine? The stuff is already up there!

Research team
There’s something in the air and it’s going to make you sick

Nasty stuff norovirus.

As common as the common cold but a great deal more unpleasant.

Like, 20 million Americans come down with it every year, according the US Centers for Disease Control – nearly 10% of all Yanks.

Hospital wards closed

We’re not much better in the UK either – 610 reported hospital outbreaks in 2013, 94% of them triggering ward closures.

Big time upchucking like that kinda explains why researchers at North Carolina State University and Wake Forest University have recently gone to so much trouble to make a vomiting machine.

If so many people are catching it, the stuff’s got to be airborne.

It’s catching

It’s certainly highly contagious. Spread mostly by touch from infected people – but also from fomites they have touched – door handles, phones, soap, salad servers, light switches – almost any surface is a transmission source.

Apparently the research machine is to prove that particles in airborne vomit spray can easily infect others if they are close enough.

And sure, looks like no doubt of it – the tests are pretty conclusive. The first DIRECT evidence of airborne distribution, according to researchers – happening by a process they call aerosolisation.

Uh huh.

Maybe we’re a little slow, but if memory serves correctly norovirus particles are microscopic – around 38 nanometres across. That’s 0.038 microns, or 0.000038 millimetres.

Blowing in the wind

About the same size as atmospheric dust, which the wind regularly blows 3,000 miles from the Sahara desert and dumps on gleaming 4x4s parked in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Doesn’t that mean slightly airborne?

And it only takes 20 or so particles of norovirus to bring you down with gastroenteritis – around 0.00076 millimetres across. Still smaller than the POINT of a pin – and so light it’s heavier than the diesel-laden air around it.

Not only airborne, but light enough NEVER to touch ground again.

And that’s not just us guessing.

More tests, more tests

ANOTHER set of researchers – from Canada’s Université Laval and the Québec Heart and Lung Institute Research Centre – claim to be the first to quantify norovirus particles in the air, in concentrations varying from 13 to 2350 particles per cubic metre.

All tested in eight hospitals and written up in the influential magazine Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Oh.

Seems you don’t need a vomit machine to prove the stuff is up there.

Any poor sod who’s unlucky enough to be near an existing sufferer can personally do the same.

Or anyone who breathes in a chance 20 particles walking down the street.

Yeah, it’s catching.

Hike up our hygiene

So wash your hands every chance you get.

And insist that the space you live and work in is properly treated with a Hypersteriliser. If you take out ALL viruses and bacteria, norovirus can’t get to you.

Because it would just be your luck to pick up the bug from somebody’s bio-cloud who was in the same room two days ago.

Vomiting machine?

That would be us.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Colleagues back with holiday bug? You’re next!

Depressed businesswoman
Count on it – whatever they got, you’re coming down with it too

Be glad you didn’t meet them at the airport.

The whole plane-load came down with this one.

Holiday hangover

Loos backed up, overflowing air sick bags – even the flight crew were looking green. A real hero of a pilot too.

Not you, thank goodness – and it was even on the six o’clock news.

Three days to your own holiday and you’re not eating any of that foreign stuff. Strictly good British graze for you, no messing about.

Er, except it’s not over, till it’s over.

Sure your mates are home safe right now. Getting over it with stacks of Imodium and Buscopan. Quarantined and out of it, so everyone in the office is safe.

Glad to see them when they’re better too. Not nice to be ill. Not nice to double up more than you planned on either – extra work when you’re trying to get clear.

But they’re your pals and you like them, so you do it with a smile.

And they like you too, so you score with the pressies – holiday souvenirs to laugh over when the tummy cramps and diarrhoea are finally gone. Some kind of norovirus the Doc said.

Yeah right, just stay off the foreign food.

As if.

What goes around, comes around

Because next thing, you’re down with the same bug too. Out of action, honking your guts out, and you haven’t even packed your bags yet.

Quick! On the phone to the airline. Are you ATOL protected? What about your insurance? You’ve GOT to cancel. Aargh!

Next thing is, why? Why you?

Your mates brought back a bug, they stayed home till they were clean, then you got it. How come?

Look no further those pressies – fridge magnets, coffee mug, T-shirt, pen, music box, bottle of booze, beach towel, souvenir hat, whatever. Fomites, all of them.

So what’s fomites?

The things you touch, that other people touch, that carry germs. Which is everything else in the office too, right? Including the door handles, lift buttons, computer keyboards, phones, light switches, photocopier, you name it.

Because it’s a nasty fact of life that though nobody’s sick, the germs that can make them that way can live for sometimes weeks out in the open.

And not just on fomites.

In the air too

We each of us trail around our own personal bio-aura of bacteria – our signature cloud of microorganisms unique to us – viruses, bacteria, fungi, moulds, dust, whatever.

And this stuff is so light it can hover and linger in the air for days and weeks, waiting to land on somebody and find a new home.

You.

Uh huh.

Your pals came back to work clean, but the bio-aura they brought from home could still carry the bug they suffered. They’re safe, but not your work place.

Yup, the whole office is bugged – inhabited by the same norovirus nasty that flew back from holiday with them.

Which means the only way you’re going to avoid coming down with it – and everybody else who hasn’t yet had a dose – is to nail all those viruses and bacteria before they nail you.

Effective debugging

Not every office has a Hypersteriliser yet.

But with dangerous germs so easily transferred by jet travel – and medical science discovering more and more of them are resistant to antibiotics – such machines could soon become as familiar as window blinds.

Because without major effort or turning the place upside down, one Hypersteriliser can make any room totally sterile and safe from germs in as little forty minutes. No viruses, no bacteria – every microorganism in the place, gone.

It does it by misting up the place with ionised hydrogen peroxide – the same stuff that may have sparked life itself on Earth – actively spreading through the air, into cracks and crevices, oxidising viruses and bacteria to nothing.

Haven’t got one in your office yet?

Let’s hope they get one, before too many people go on leave. Or before winter comes with its latest version of bird flu.

Unless they do – and unless you’re meticulous about always washing your hands – you’re next, for sure.

All those germs still stressing you out? Why?

Girl shrugs shoulders
If we’re more bacteria than human,
why are we worried about ourselves?

Get a grip, not all germs are bad.

That pot of probiotic yoghurt you’re climbing into for a start. Full of good healthy bacteria to aid digestion in your gut. Where they’ll join the other 100 trillion bacteria already there.

You’re not actually yourself, you see. Or not who you think you are.

The real you is different

Because bacteria resident in the body outnumber human cells more than 10 to 1 – so tiny, 20 billion or so can fit on the head of a pin – and we’re each of us carrying around enough to fill a large soup can.

So you’re more bacteria than human – so what’s all the stress about?

OK, there’s good germs and bad germs.

And the trick for us human beings (humbos) is to live with them, not against them. Find the trade-off that streamlines the way for everything we do and think – yup, bacteria influence the brain too, we’re all under mind control.

A bit of a switcheroo, hey? Because maybe whoever we are is really the bacteria – and as the resident bacteria, we control the humbo, our own personal robot.

Uh huh. A very sensitive robot, easily knocked out of balance. To be looked after with great care, like a gun. Because treated the wrong way, it can blow up in your face.

Bang, not nice

Like cleaning – which when you think about it, is simply the business of putting everything in the right place. Dirt in the wrong place, things can go wrong. Germs in the wrong place, same difference.

Except this humbo robot thingy moves around in a whole WORLD of viruses and bacteria. The air around you alone teems with 1,800 different TYPES of bacteria – too many to think of putting a figure too. And we ourselves just by being there generate around 37 million more bacteria per hour.

You got it, that means bacteria and viruses are everywhere, right?

On your clothes, on your face, underfoot, all over the food you put in your mouth (yummy probiotic yoghurt, peach flavour) – and because they touch everything and move everything around for you – on your hands.

On the things that your hands touch too – they’re called fomites. Your mobile, computer keyboard, pens, door handles, knife and fork, everything around you.

Your own face too, which is how most of the bad germs get into your body – through the soft, sensitive tissue of your eyes, nose and mouth – which, if you’re like the rest of us, you touch 2,000 – 3,000 times a day.

Your hands have it

All of which presents another mind-boggling perspective – that your life is in your hands, literally, all the time.

Dirty or germ-infested hands – the body becomes contaminated, the bacteria balance goes for a loop. And you join the other humbos writhing on the floor with norovirus, or Ebola, or whatever else it was you ALLOWED to get in and infect you.

Dead right, washing your hands saves your life – every time you do it.

Yet 95% of us never wash our hands properly, or even think about it – we’re too full of being busy humbos to think about protecting out bacterial balance. Things to do, got to get on, no time for anything – go, go, go.

The same for the environment we’re in.

Out in the open, we stand a better chance. The wind blows, rain falls, bad germs have a tough time catching up with us.

But we don’t live out in the open – and haven’t for millions of years.

Modern cave-dwellers

Our lives are indoors 90% of the time – mostly with others, at home and at work. Sharing our living space, eating together – multiplying all kinds of opportunity to cross-contaminate each other.

Us and our bioplumes of bacteria. Good and bad germs lingering in the air long after we’re gone – picking up bugs from each other even though we’re not in the same place any more. Residual infection.

Which means, like your hands, clean the room – your life depends on it.

Except rooms are little more complicated – at least with the water-and-sponge wipe-down methods we use most of the time. Sort of OK for floors and surfaces, but rubbish for anything else – like the 80% air space that surrounds us and never gets touched.

Protecting air force

Unless of course, you use a Hypersteriliser – the only way to reach into all the cracks and crevices of our living space – and knock out bad germs lingering in the air. Putting out an ultra-fine mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide that grabs viruses and bacteria on the fly, oxidising them to nothing.

No viruses, no bacteria – the room is sterile. No bad germs in the wrong place. Safe.

No good germs either, but don’t worry. As people come and go – their bioplumes with them, filling the space with their bio-auras – the good bacteria will be back.

They are us, after all. And we control the humbos, not the other way around.

So like we said, why are you stressing?