Your blink – a grain of dust at least as big as an elephant.
You blink again, realisation this time. Airborne dirt maybe 50 microns across. Feels like 50 miles, scratching across your eye.
Riding the wind
The train arrives and you step in.
You do the math – 0.05 of a millimetre. Ten thousand times bigger than a typical germ cell. Eighty thousand times bigger than the cell of Ebola they discovered in that doctor’s eye two months after he was declared clear.
The train moves off and you pull out a tissue. Your eye is watering like crazy. The train lurches and a corner of the tissue stabs your cornea. Hurts like hell, but you’ve got the dust particle out. A boulder, the size of a small car.
You blink again, feeling better – turning your head from the constant draft through the open window between the cars.
You think hurricane, you think tornado. You’ve seen clips of storms picking up cars. You suddenly remember about jet streams – powerful winds six miles up, blowing a 350-ton Boeing 777 200 mph faster than its normal cruising speed.
And the penny drops.
Just yesterday you read that the MERS outbreak in South Korea could be going airborne.
For sure it could. You’ve just had a boulder several thousand times larger than any MERS cell slam into your eye. One grain of grit out of many. A whole cloud of them blown down the tube tunnel. You even coughed last time, remember? How many grains was that?
And how many cells of MERS could that be, clustered together?
50? 500? 5,000? And still way smaller than your grain of dirt.
A single cell wouldn’t do it of course, the body’s immune system is too good..
But 5,000 cells in a clump? All gulped in with a gasp of air, straight to your lungs – exactly as suspected in the spread of South Korean hospital cases – breathing through ventilator apparatus before diagnosis pointed to contaminated air.
Now your mind is in gear.
If air can move cars, shifting bacteria is nothing.
At 20 nanometres, a single cell of rhinovirus is so small it has no gravity. It can ride the air indefinitely – just like billions and billions of other living microbes. Viruses or bacteria, no matter which – even the largest of them is barely a micrometre.
If there’s a fan going in the special care wing of a hospital in super-hot Saudi Arabia (where the virus was first reported), you wouldn’t want to be sitting downwind from a MERS patient.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Germs can transport pretty well anywhere without effort – both “airborne” ones and the types you can only catch on contact. They weigh nothing, so they can linger too.
Wheel the patient out of the room and the germs are still there.
OK, so a hit team moves in and deep cleans the place – really thorough, complete wipedown of everything with sodium hypochlorite.
But your mind still tells you – germs in the air, germs in the air.
Not good enough – 80% of that room space is air.
They could be lurking at head height. Clustered behind the vital signs monitor. Down the back of the bedside cabinet. Jeepers, everywhere – and the room’s just been cleaned!
Which is when you know you need a Hypersteriliser. Ionised hydrogen peroxide that actively disperses everywhere – right through the air, deep into cracks and crevices. Oxidising germs on contact, ripping apart their cell structure. 40 minutes, and the place is sterile. No viruses, no bacteria anywhere.
So yeah, MERS might be a problem. That whole host of others too – especially those rogues resistant to antibiotics.
They might be airborne, they might be clinging on tight. But we have a defence.
And in this particular room – whenever you want – all germs are dead.
Which is why we keep reading stories about norovirus – the Don’t-Wash-Hands Disease – breaking out all over.
Last month Toby Carvery, HMS Raleigh and the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. This month The Western Isles Hospital, celebs at Glastonbury and the Longmynd Hotel in Shropshire.
The things we touch
But it’s not just norovirus. Dirty hands can transmit any number of diseases faster than you could imagine. Like Ebola, or typhoid, or the Black Death – all of them fatal unless you’re lucky. (Tweet this)
And sorry, it’s not like putting on a mask and you’re safe – putting on latex gloves will get you precisely nowhere. You actually have to wash your hands, particularly before food and after the loo .
Because if nothing else, you actually touch your face up to 3,000 times a day without thinking about it – favourite entry into the body of every virus and bacteria – through the soft tissue of the eyes, nose and mouth.
Protect the space around us
There’s another defence we don’t think about either – which the Koreans are showing us in every news update. Spraying disinfectant everywhere, so that places are safe BEFORE they’re used again.
Just one machine, misting up with ionised hydrogen peroxide automatically, is way easier, quicker (about 40 minutes a room) and more effective than teams of hazmat experts spraying sodium hypochlorite everywhere – 99.9999% of all germs destroyed.
But of course, this is Britain, so we’ll just fudge along until something major happens – then blame the NHS or the government or somebody for letting it happen..
Not to any of us though – we’re going to keep our hands clean.
And not even a cuddle – a handshake will do it, or even borrowing a pen to sign something.
Touch your mouth, nose or eyes after that – and most of us do it 3,000 times a day – and you could already be at risk.
You see, you can’t tell someone has MERS when it starts. It takes around ten days for the symptoms to show themselves. (Tweet this) The downer is that it’s contagious all of that time.
During which you’ve caught the plane, done your sales meeting, enjoyed the celebratory banquet, flown home again – and been in time for your daughter’s stage debut in the school ballet. So how many people did you glad-hand in that little jaunt?
You got it – wash your hands at every opportunity. Before food, after the loo – and whenever you can after touching somebody or something from outside your usual circle of living.
The other defence is to safeguard your immediate environment.
Not the great outdoors of course, but the enclosed spaces we all share – lots of us all together, moving in the same space, using the same things, breathing the same air – at work, at school, at places where we eat and relax.
Before we get there, all viruses and bacteria that may be present are destroyed with a Hypersteriliser. A fine mist of hydrogen peroxide plasma penetrates everywhere and actively oxidises them to nothing. So when we walk in through the door, the place is sterile.
Two defences – against a two-faced virus with serious implications if we don’t keep watchful.
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.
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?
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.
Dodgy place the office can be. Your squeaky-wheel chair. Paper cuts. Stabbing yourself with the stapler.
Plenty of misadventure and only yourself to blame.
But how about if the ceiling falls in? You get trapped in the lift? Or your office chair breaks?
How about if it’s major and you get hurt? Have to go to hospital? Or even take time off?
Most employers are pretty sympathetic.
It wasn’t your fault. They’ve got insurance. The landlord has pots of money and it’s all fixed PDQ – no questions, no worries. Everything turns out hunky.
Duty of care
OK, none of these things happen very often – but most bosses accept that if they do, then it’s their responsibility. Part of their duty of care.
Your workplace welfare is their concern, it’s their job to look after you. And Numero Uno on their list of obligations is ensuring a safe work environment.
Some of them take it further and invest in a workplace wellness programme – actively looking to support and promote employee health, safety and wellbeing.
Hold that thought, health.
When you’re out of action, you’re off the grid. Your job doesn’t get done, there is a hole in the fabric at work. It can lose money, it can lose customers. It can lose goodwill and momentum.
Not so bad if you’re off for a few days from the wrench to your ankle when your chair gave way. Your boss is embarrassed and hoping you won’t sue.
Not your fault
But how about being off with the flu?
Not quite the same, is it? Not exactly your fault, but not quite so sympathetic about it either. Silly you, taking chances out in the rain. Yes, so you caught it from somebody on the tube – but you should be more careful.
And then the flu turns out to be MERS – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. More like pneumonia than flu and people can die from it. And your colleague on the desk next to you just came back from Bahrain.
Company trip or personal, it doesn’t matter. Nobody knew she had it – still in incubation or possibly she is a carrier, catches a mild version and is none the worse for wear.
But not you, you’ve got the lot – fever, coughing AND the diarrhoea. Just from sitting there, doing your job.
Not fair and not right.
Though not even knowing about it, your employer has failed to protect you. Maybe others in your team will also come down with it. Your workplace welfare is compromised and your employer is derelict in duty of care
Care and protection
Oh yes. There’s a whole team of you working together in the same space, normal office bullpen. None of you is the same and probably most of you have some kind of underlying condition – weak chest, heart murmur, IBS, or prone to migraines.
These weaknesses make you vulnerable. If some bug goes around – flu, norovirus, whatever – you’re more likely to get hit. And more likely to get complications.
You need protection FROM EACH OTHER – and as a regular workplace hazard encountered in every business, your employer should provide it.
It’s already necessary too.
One of the highest health hazards of all, ordinary office desks are regularly infested with 10 million of more germs. Escapees from the nightly cleaning crew wipe-down, or long-term lurkers on keyboards, phones, documents, etc – or in the dusty bunnies and detritus behind display screens and control consoles, inaccessible in coils of cabling.
Uh huh. But not the employer’s nightmare it might seem to be.
The premises get cleaned out nightly, right? Vacuumed, wiped down, trash emptied. It might LOOK clean, but the germs are still there – along with others swirling in the air, brought in on the personal auras of you and your colleagues.
Believe it or not, each of us trails a cloud of microscopic bacteria, viruses and body debris – as personal to each of us as a fingerprint or retina scan.
Easy peasy answer
OK, so get rid of the germs too. No germs, no illnesses, no infections. Nobody off work, everybody happy. That massive chunk of absenteeism expense is deleted from the balance sheet.
Unbelievably easy too – with almost no effort.
After everyone’s gone home, a Hypersteriliser gets wheeled in – a kind of dinky, wheelie-bin-sized anti-germ console. Hit the button and the place gets misted up with an ultra-fine super-dry mist of non-toxic, ionised hydrogen peroxide – the same natural germ-killer our own bodies make for ourselves.
The mist is electrostatically charged, which does two things.
First, every single particle tries to get away from itself, like magnets with the same polarity, pushing each other away. This forces the mist to power-disperse in all directions – hard up against all surfaces, walls and ceilings, deep into cracks and crevices, and clutching hard at every single coil of wire.
Second, the negative charge of the peroxide is actively attracted to the positive charge of bacteria and viruses. It vigorously reaches out and grabs at them as it spreads – again like a magnet, snatching at them like iron filings – out of nowhere, out of everywhere – clinging to them and oxidising them to nothing.
Forty minutes later, they’re all gone – the whole place is completely sterile. No MERS, no nothing to threaten anybody. Everybody safe.
Now go tell your boss.
If she knew it was that easy, she’d fall off HER chair.