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.

Back Off, Bacteria! is the blog of Hyper Hygiene Ltd, supplier of what we’re convinced is the most effective health protection system in the world. A fully mobile, all-automatic Hypersteriliser machine mists up workplaces with ionised hydrogen peroxide, spreading everywhere and eliminating all bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Hypersteriliser units are supplied to businesses and institutions across the UK, notably the haematology and other critical units at Salford Royal Hospital, Greater Manchester; Doncaster & Bassetlaw Hospital; South Warwickshire Hospital; Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital; and Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.

The Halo Hypersteriliser system achieves 6-log Sterility Assurance Level – 99.9999% of germs destroyed. It is the only EPA-registered dry mist fogging system – EPA No 84526-6. It is also EU Biocide Article 95 Compliant.

Originally posted on 23 September 2018 @ 8:26 am

Originally posted on 23 September 2018 @ 8:26 am

What’s suddenly gone missing from our hospitals and surgeries?

Astounded businesswoman
No more repeat outbreaks, no more germs coming back and back and back – we’re safe

Not just missing, but gone completely.

First thing in the morning usually. As the place opens up and new staff come on.

Hunt around all you like, there’s nary a trace. Quite the opposite of the potential crisis last night.

Breathe deep, breathe easy. Because now, there’s no germs.

They’ve been taken out by one of the new germ-busting machines that are starting to revolutionise health care from top to bottom.

Normal germ control is at best haphazard and often ineffective.

It’s also labour intensive, a schlep to do, usually seen as a low-grade dogsbody job with no motivation. Executed with primitive mop-and-bucket and wipe-down rag.

More “low-giene” than hygiene

With methods like these, even deep clean procedures often fall short – usually relying on more concentrated solutions of bleach. Backed up by impressive-sounding but equally ineffective applications of steam .

Downside issues are basic but crucial. How can you be sure that all areas have been reached, particularly remote cracks and crevices? And how can you ensure that the air is sterilised too?

Answer, you can’t.

Which is why the germ-busting machines are so vital.

Two types are finding favour, both faster and way more effective than wipe-down hand-work.

Ultraviolet irradiation. Or whole-room subjection to an oxidising agent.

UV units are quick and simple. Just wheel one into place, vacate the room and turn on the “death rays”. Five or ten minutes exposure is usually long enough to destroy most pathogenic microbes. A real asset in places with high occupancy turnover, like dentists’ operating rooms.

Against that, repeat exposures in different positions are necessary to fully cover a room – as a light source, UV’s big disadvantage is untouched shadow areas.

So either room treatment is superficial – fine if it’s largely empty to minimise shadows – or fiddly, requiring four or five re-dos to be sure of coverage, a downtime of an hour or more.

Oxidising efficency

Oxidising machines take more time, with varying success depending on what they use and how they operate – basically by destroying the cell structure of viruses and bacteria.

Usual procedure is to generate the oxidising agent – ozone or hydrogen peroxide – for long enough to fill the air space and ensure contact with all surfaces. Leave it time to kill the pathogens, then vent the room clear.

Exposure time is of course the critical element – and why steam is less effective. Steam needs extended heat to kill, but is nearly always applied by hose or lance that can only be momentary.

Bacteria easily survive such flashes – like a quick tap of the kettle with your finger. They even multiply in the increased moistness left  behind. Nothing like as effective as oxidising, which rips them apart by shoving oxygen atoms at them.

Top of the class for potency is definitely ozone, a kind of super-oxygen itself – but highly unstable in normal atmosphere and dangerous  to humans.

More friendly is hydrogen peroxide, the very same substance that the body itself produces as an internal germ-fighter.

It’s also potent – the Royal Navy once used it to power submarines – but equally effective in milder preparations, the 3% solution your chemist sells as mouthwash is really quite gentle.

The big differences are in method of dispersal and again, contact time.

Effortless gas plasma

Most machines fog up a room with a solution of vaporised hydrogen peroxide strong enough (32%) to kill germs on short contact – relying on the force of pump action to spread across all areas and surfaces.

Such concentration is hazardous to humans and corrosive to some materials. It’s also damp, pushing up humidity levels which bacteria like, requiring a lengthy dry-out process afterwards before the room can be used again.

The breakthrough is to ionise the hydrogen peroxide. Morphing it from a gaseous vapour  into a plasma – electrically charged particles that themselves produce further antimicrobials. Hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, nitrogen species. Plus even ozone and UV, both germ fighters in their own right.

The effect is dynamic, boosting a mild 6% solution into super-performance because of its charge. Press the start button on the machine – it’s called a Hypersteriliser – and see for yourself. (Video demo here).

On exit from the machine, all particles are negative, causing them to repel each other aggressively, forcing them apart. This drives them outwards in all directions, hard up against all surfaces and penetrating deep into cracks,  trying to escape each other. Dispersal is 100%.

Equally aggressive, the negative charge vigorously reaches out and grabs at positively charged viruses and bacteria. Locked together, contact time is prolonged, the microbes don’t stand a chance.

The killing action depletes the charge – decomposing into harmless oxygen and water, in quantities so small it evaporates quickly to nothing.

99.9999% missing

Result, a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6 – meaning 99.9999% effectiveness, that’s down to 1 in a million. There are no germs, the place is safe. Until us humans walk in and start repopulating with our own personal germ clouds.

No germs, no problems.

Gone missing at Salford Royal Hospital, Doncaster and Bassetlaw, South Warwickshire, Coventry & Warwickshire, Burton, Queen Victoria in East Grinstead, Tameside – and a rapidly increasing number of clinics and surgeries across the country.

Gone missing and good riddance.

Because get rid of all the germs and they don’t come back. No more repeat outbreaks that have griefed so many healthcare centres recently.

And good health to all of us.

Picture Copyright: citalliance / 123RF Stock Photo

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.

Germ Wars: auto-sterile defences move closer

Asking doctor
Emergency time is short – how long do we have to get completely sterile?

HAIs on the increase.

Antimicrobial resistance more unchecked than ever before.

The beginning of the end?

Not if Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn have anything to do with it.

They’ve just taken delivery of one of those American UV sterilising jobbies for evaluation. The thing that zaps pathogens with a blast of pulsed xenon.

Turning the tide

Way to go, QEH.

ANY move against infections is hugely good for all of us.

Especially the automated kind.

Because disinfecting and sterilising by hand is not just a thankless labour intensive schlep.

It takes forever and it’s too easy to miss bits.

High touch surfaces and work tops of course – but what about underneath things? Or behind medical equipment with all those coils and tubes and wires? Or the massive bit that never gets done because you can’t scrub empty space – the surrounding air in every room?

Zap! The American jobbie will do most of it. The UV rays attack virus and bacteria cell DNA, destroying it almost immediately. So it’s quick too, everything in sight sterilised in under ten minutes.

Short, sharp hits in places with a time crunch, wow.

But not everywhere.

UV’s Achilles heel

Because the UV rays only work in straight lines radiating out from the machine. Underneath and behind things still need attention. Follow-up hand-wipes on grab-rails and handles for instance.

A mega-step in the right direction though. Nailing anywhere from 60 – 80% of pathogens dead in minutes.

Especially those in the air. So microscopically small – but floating around – lying in wait in the biggest undefended space in any hospital room – more than 80% in some high-ceilinged wards.

Zap! Sorted. Zap! Sorted.

Imagine one of those in a hard-pushed A&E. No time to catch your breath, the next patient is in for treatment stat – and at least most of the place is sterilised. A fleet of smaller, inexpensive versions like the Hyperpulse, could chop infections massively.

So is 100 percent auto-sterile possible? Yes, with hydrogen peroxide plasma. (Tweet this)

Total room sterilisation

Ask the team in the haematology unit at Salford Royal NHS. For two years now, they’ve been holding infections in check with Hypersteriliser machines.

OK, they do take forty minutes to do a room, not ten.

But the ultra-fine hydrogen peroxide plasma mist that they disperse clobbers all viruses and bacteria completely. Any room treated with these things is sterile to Log 6 – 99.9999% of all germs totally annihilated.

Like a kind of super-gas, the hydrogen peroxide ions are charged – each molecule actively trying to get away from the same negative charge of all its neighbours. This spreads the plasma everywhere, forcing it hard against walls, ceilings, beds and furniture. Deep into cracks too, where hand-wipe cleaning cannot reach.

In the same instant, the negative charges actively reach out to grab positively-charged viruses and bacteria, releasing oxygen atoms at them that rip them to shreds. Boosted with silver, this action is multiplied three times over and more.

Forty minutes and it’s all over – any remaining mist reverting to harmless oxygen and water, which immediately evaporates. It can’t cure the patient, but at least you know the room you put them in is safe and totally sterile.

The war of course, never stops.

But it’s reassuring to know we have some effective weapons.

Viruses can’t be deadly if you destroy them first

Kitten hiding
Oh no! Germs are everywhere!

If we believed everything we read, we’d hide under the bed and never come out.

That’s not to deny that things can be pretty ropey. But it sure helps to throw a little common sense at the scares we see.

Like today’s paper has this report that the MERS virus might be airborne instead of transmitted by contact.

That makes it faster and easier to spread. Panicsville.

Well, no. But it’s worth thinking about.

What is MERS? It’s another flu-type bug, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – so far found mostly in Saudi Arabia. A particularly nasty thing to catch because it can kill you.

It’s a serious respiratory illness caused by a type of virus known as a coronavirus (CoV). Around 850 people have gone down with it in the last two years.

Another flu-virus? Imagine that running round our schools – like SARS and all the other scares we’ve had over the years. Are our kids safe? Should we be worried?

It bears watching, but no.

In the first place, it seems to have originated through contact with camels, not a regular occurrence on the M25. In the second place, 850 cases sounds bad, but it’s min. Two Boeing-loads. Half an hour’s traffic through the doors at Tesco.

The revelation here is that researchers now think that it may airborne.

At last!

Because if you think about it, ALL viruses and bacteria are airborne. They have to be because of their size. Even the biggest is barely a thousandth the size of a grain of dust. Which means these things are so light they may never settle.

Always in suspension, they’re free to float anywhere and everywhere on the slightest waft of air current. To see this in dynamic suspension, check the eye-opening animation on Cells Alive.

Which means that though infection may be accelerated by human contact – the germs like a nice warm body to make a home in – it may not be spread purely by coughs and sneezes, touching, or exposure to body fluids.

Those pathogens are up there hovering, all the time – and given the right chances, they’ll make something of it. Which explains how a lot of first cases may originate. How else, if there was nobody else around to catch it from?

Sound far-fetched?

Back in the 70s, South African botanist Lyall Watson wrote about spiders discovered in Antarctica during the summer. Not possible because there was no life-support – no trees, no insects, and temperatures that would kill as soon as the sun went. Yet the spiders were there.

Blown by the wind. From South America.

Now if spiders can blow two thousand miles to the southern ice-cap, what kind of bugs might we have floating around us here? In our homes, in our workplace, in our kids’ classrooms at school?

Relax. It’s possible to destroy all viruses and bacteria in the air within about 45 minutes. To sterilise the place utterly.

Your kids’ school might not have it, but there’s a dinky wheelie-bin sized auto-robot that sprays a micro-mist of hydrogen peroxide up into the air, oxidising harmful pathogens to nothing at a sterilisation assurance level of Log 6.

Behind the mumbo-jumbo, that means it kills 99.9999% of germs – ripping them apart by shoving oxygen atoms at them. And that’s both airborne AND on exposed surfaces. Not just on top of, but underneath as well. The bits that don’t get cleaned because they’re out of sight.

So MERS need not be such a worry after all. Except to those poor souls who’ve got it.

To you and me though, it’s another thing to be watchful for. Camels aren’t particularly plentiful where we are. But you can secure the hydrogen peroxide treatment just by picking the phone.

Not a day to stay under the bed. There’s a whole wonderful world out there to enjoy.