But make no error, plenty of people die from contamination on their fingers.
Like the old tin miners in Cornwall, back in the Thirteenth Century. There was arsenic in the dust that they gouged out of those tiny, confined tunnels – which killed plenty of them before they discovered what it was.
Which is how come those savvy Cornish womenfolk developed the world famous pasty. That thick crust around the edge was so the men could grab hold without touching the good stuff in the middle.
“Oggy, oggy, oggy,” the women would cry down the top of the mineshaft. “Oy, oy, oy,” the men would yell back from deep underground. And the women would throw the pasties down – the tough crust keeping it from bursting when it hit the bottom.
We don’t have crusts on a lot of our favourites these days, so a lot of people go sick from the swallowing the crud that’s on their hands – the price for sloppy hygiene.
Which is how come as many as a third of all norovirus cases are self-inflicted.
People don’t wash their hands – but launch straight into finger-food. Burgers, pizza, chips, sandwiches, wraps – just about every kind of food-on-the-go you can think of.
Straight off their fingers, straight into their gut – whatever germs might have decided to linger on the things they touched before they sat down to scoff. A whole day’s worth of being out and about, if you think of it. On the tube, on the bus, out in the street, lurking on cash and credit cards, on keys and clothes, on door handles and light switch – and of course on the phone.
Ever looked at the screen of your phone after making a call? Yucky, greasy stuff, right? Skin grease and grime mixed in with germs picked up from the air – as many as 10 million bacteria and even more viruses. The most visible demonstration yet of the stuff you swallow, if you eat without washing your hands.
And yes, death is possible.
Norovirus or some kind of gastroenteritis upset is the most likely result of eating with unwashed hands. And in America – fast-food nirvana – around 800 people die from it every year. From the dehydration that sets in with severe diarrhoea and vomiting. Not a nice way to go.
When it gets serious, your blood pressure drops and your whole system starts going tits up. A heavy price to pay for some fast food when you’re hungry, hey? Especially if you’re in such a hurry to eat, you neglect to wash your hands.
Stupid really, and we should all know better.
Wash hands, or die
Not enough time? Rubbish!
Choosing to die by not taking five minutes to wash and scrub up. Blind suicide is what it is. Maybe it won’t happen this time, or not even next. But what you’re doing is taking a risk just as deadly as crossing the road without looking.
So soap and water is cissy stuff, yeah?
Never mind, there’s plenty of time to reflect on the wisdom of it once you’re dead.
And if you don’t die, maybe you’ll wish you will with the cramps and the upchucks and the burning runs that never seem to stop.
You want to play silly buggers? Norovirus is not a nice playmate. Neither are any of the other billions and billions of harmful pathogens you could swallow just from a moment’s carelessness.
Which means, do yourself a favour, if you don’t want to wind up dead.
Wash your hands whenever you think of it – especially before food and always after the loo.
Otherwise you might just as well blow your brains out, right now.
You’re not off from work, so you can’t claim sick leave.
But since you’ve dragged yourself in, what are the implications?
Never mind that you feel like grim death. You shouldn’t be showing yourself at all.
Sneezing all over the place, all round your desk littered with tissues – could be that penalising you is right.
Most obvious of course is, you’ll give your germs to everyone else.
So it’s not just you under-performing, it’s the whole office. Not good.
Especially on the boss’s calculator.
Do the math
Start with efficiency and productivity.
You might be at your desk, but is your job getting done? Your head’s like boiled knitting, so how good are the decisions you take? Are you really on the ball, or a blundering loose cannon –colleagues chasing after you for damage control?
All by yourself you could be costing a bomb.
For instance, if you get things wrong, they have to be done again – paying for the same thing twice.
And how about if they’re at the negotiation stage, or subject to a time crunch? Business lost altogether, more red ink on the balance sheet.
And when everybody else comes down with what you’ve got, what then? Two, three days at the wrong time and the place could go bankrupt.
At least if you stay away, the boss is only paying for your empty desk. And staff absences are probably already factored in – part of the cost of doing business, a staggering £29 billion a year for the whole country.
Which means you owe it to yourself and your work mates to steer clear of the place if you’re not well. Your work ethic is admirable, but more liability than asset.
Or if your conscience is troubling you, you’re probably in the wrong job anyway.
Where from the guilt-trip of having to work extra hours and weekends or when you’re feeling sick? If the work can’t be done in the proper time allowed, there’s something wrong with the management.
A business partnership
OK, there’s two sides to every relationship, including business ones.
So here’s a poser for you.
Shouldn’t the boss penalise you for allowing yourself to get sick in the first place?
Colds, flu, tummy bugs and a lot of others are all mostly self-caused.
Oh yes, they are. Just think about how they’re spread.
Mostly by contact, right? Either direct touching, or from fomites – common objects that all of us handle – light switches, door handles, keypads, documents, phones, money, keys.
Which makes hand washing the single most effective way to prevent the spread of your cold or flu, or whatever it is you’ve got – hopefully not norovirus, that’s the pits for everyone.
Yeah, so why don’t we do it?
Because if the boss made 1p from every time staff forgot to wash their hands, there’d be enough for everyone to do a company jaunt to Venice all expenses paid – flights, two nights in a hotel, dinner–dance, special concert and guided sight-seeing – at least once, or maybe twice a year.
Get the picture? We are our own worst enemies at making ourselves sick.
So why shouldn’t the boss DEMAND that all staff wash their hands whenever appropriate – or be penalised?
Yeah, well like we said, there’s two sides to every relationship, including business ones.
Because while the boss is jumping up and down, saying “wash your hands” – you’ve got the goods on her with how dirty the place is. Dirty and germ-laden.
So no sooner have you washed your hands than they’re contaminated again – from all the day-to-day filth and detritus gathered throughout the office and on everyone’s desk.
Despite an every day swamp out by cleaning teams, most office desks still harbour around 10 million pathogenic bacteria – in the dust bunnies under and behind keyboards – and the hard-to-reach places that never get touched.
That next attack of norovirus could come from no further away than the latest memo in your IN-tray.
So don’t staff and management owe it to each other to get this right?
Germs at work are unproductive, unprofitable and no good for anybody.
Which means staff owe it to themselves and everyone else to wash their hands regularly – always after the loo and always before food as the very minimum discipline.
To maintain momentum, management can also put hand-wipes or gel on every desk, every day, so there’s never a time anyone’s hands should stay contaminated.
At the same time, management owe it to staff and the balance sheet to eliminate germs in the workplace. Easily accomplished by a nightly mist-up with a Hypersteriliser – sterilising the whole place and destroying germs on and behind surfaces, in the air, everywhere – all in one go.
Nobody penalises anyone, everybody wins.
Easy to keep justifying the Venice trip too – check the profit figures and decreased downtimes.
Hygiene negligence is not a crime. But not washing your hands can get you in a lot of trouble – even outside the medical sector.
A shocking number us are guilty of forgetting to do it, or not even thinking about it. And then we wonder why wildfire illnesses like norovirus can suddenly come out of nowhere and turn our world upside down.
Fact is, we touch so many things in an ordinary day, our hands are inevitably contaminated.
But because they don’t look dirty – most germs are too small to see, even with a powerful microscope – cleaning them off is not on our radar.
We’re pretty sloppy if we ever do remember too. Because incredibly:
If your hands didn’t get washed, how about the things you touch after you’ve been to the loo? Don’t they become contaminated? There’s poo on there – minute traces of faecal matter – inevitably transferred to documents you handle, and so to the hands of your colleagues.
As a result, among all the other things you have on there, your hands have small traces of cocaine on them. You’re tainted, even though you never use the stuff – and never go anywhere near a dealer.
Worse, any test would prove positive – and you could be fired. Just like the poor bus driver in Bristol – sacked after handling several hundred pounds in cash and then not washing his hands.
But it doesn’t have to be drugs that get you busted. Straight poo will do. Not washing your hands is not choosy.
Like, how about your whole office goes down at a critical stage – everybody working on a big make-or-break business pitch – specially-hired consultants, a whole team of experts, plus visiting firemen from overseas… then norovirus puts them out of action?
Cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea – nobody can work with those. Four critical days off the grid, everything dead in the water. So what happens when the job goes pear-shaped and the contract falls through?
Cutbacks, staff layoffs – the brass will want to know why.
So suppose they investigate and trace the source of the outbreak to you? And suppose because of TV security surveillance, they can prove not washing your hands after being in the loo?
Yeah OK, you’re a workaholic and you were actually sitting on the bog, thrashing out vital details on your phone. Sure, nobody is more committed than you. But now straight carelessness has brought the whole company down.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, right? And so unnecessary. Simply from not washing your hands.
How many millions is it? And they can tie the negligence directly to you? The deal of the century, down the tubes – just because you didn’t wash your hands?
Price of forgetfulness
You could be looking at dismissal, maybe even a ban on working in the same industry for months or years. It happens to careless professionals in the medical sector, so why not to you?
Never knew not washing your hands could be so important?
So what if it wasn’t norovirus, but something more lethal? Cholera, say, from your holiday in South Africa. Those contaminated guavas you bought in Kwa-Zulu Natal – only you didn’t know they were contaminated.
And you’re OK, by lucky chance you’re a carrier – it doesn’t affect you – but two of those experts have underlying heart conditions and one of them dies. What then?
Not nice, either of them – referendum or norovirus.
Making them go away is not easy either. Though norovirus DOES do that by itself after a few days.
As long as it’s prevented from coming back again.
A pernicious one, norovirus. Unless we’re careful, it keeps coming back and back and back.
Except luckily, we know why – and we CAN stop it.
Yes, it does mean lots of cleaning. Thoroughly disinfecting everywhere in sight.
OK is not OK, it has to be perfect
Everywhere that’s not in sight too. This is a bug that spreads everywhere and it doesn’t pay to take chances. Explosive vomiting and diarrhoea are its two nasty ways of getting itself everywhere – fiendishly persistent, just like the referendum.
So it gets in every corner and crevice, seeps through drapes and underlay – and worst of all, takes to the air. Don’t forget that smell too, is airborne, so there’s no mistaking its presence.
But norovirus doesn’t stop there.
In the air and everywhere
As other tiny particles that have no smell, no more than 2 microns across – it rides, microscopically tiny – on the smallest of wafts and breezes to spread even further.
Which means, like a referendum canvasser, that it’s not got rid of so easily. Ordinary wipe-clean methods just aren’t good enough – and even strong bleach is not effective unless it’s in constant contact for ten minutes or more.
Any effective clean-up therefore has to include the air – as well as getting into every remote seam and crack – and reaching every surface, underneath as well as on top, behind too. Not something that’s possible with a mop and bucket.
Forty minutes later, the room is sterilised – while any referendum canvasser is still banging away on the doorstep. No more norovirus, no more anything, the place is safe from all germs – and so is everybody who ventures in there.
Not a sexy subject, but who wants to feel ill and throw up all the time?
Not nice, norovirus. It stops you doing nice things too.
Holidays, celebrations, momentous occasions – the ultimate party pooper.
So here’s a guide to help you avoid it. To side-step catching it in the first place, and protect yourself when other people around you come down with it.
You can be unlucky, of course. But nine times out of ten, these simple tips should help you stay out of trouble.
First off, know that norovirus is very, very virulent – an unpleasant illness on a hair trigger that is easily touched off. Other viruses and most bacteria need at least 20 or 30 cells to attack you with if they’re going to infect you.
Norovirus only needs half that, which makes it twice as dodgy. A nasty, horrible illness that’s super-contagious – spread mostly by touch, but also in the air. Get it on your fingers, your clothing or your skin and you have to be really careful.
It’s also pernicious, at home anywhere and able to survive on most surfaces for over a month. And since it spreads so easily, anything touched by other people is a possible contact point – especially high-touch objects like door handles, grab rails, light switches, phones, keypads and cutlery you eat with.
How does it get into your body?
Usually through your mouth. You can breathe it in or swallow it, either on contaminated food or anything eaten with your fingers.
Which means everybody’s favourite fast foods – hot dogs, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, fish and chips, chicken drumsticks, wraps, crisps, biscuits, cake – all the easy fast foods.
Or if you’re on holiday – olives, pitta, humous, shawarmas, kebabs, falafel, Tex-Mex favourites like tacos, fajitas, tamales, burritos and tortillas – not to mention churros, pancakes, baklava or a good dripping cone of ice cream.
Yup, all the nice stuff when you’re having a nice time. Indulgent, spur-of-the-moment, soul-boosting street-food. Tasty, tactile, goodness oozing from your fingers – you know the score.
But note the common denominator – all finger food. Stuff you can scoff with your hands, right in the middle of doing something else. Or anything with a lot of handling by others around you – tear-and-share, buffets, smorgasbords, group curries.
All easily contaminated by just one person’s unclean fingers –including yours.
Finger-lickin’ good, maybe – fingers pointing at trouble more like.
Big tummy trouble.
And that’s the bummer.
Because most of the time we eat without thinking because our hands LOOK clean. Yet realistically our fingers could be loaded with all kinds of yuk too small to see – a single norovirus cell is just 2 microns across, about a 10,000th the width of a human hair.
It floats around easily in the air, lighter than cigarette smoke. And settles invisibly on your skin, scraping together easily with its brothers and sisters as you wipe your hand across – groups of 20, 500, 1,000 cells, all ready to go.
Which brings us to Reality Check One – most norovirus attacks are self-inflicted. The stuff is already on our skin and we don’t even know it. We let our hygiene lapse at the wrong moment – and four hours later it’s cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea like we don’t ever want to believe.
Like the nagging granny in our heads keeps reminding us – WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS.
If only it was that easy.
Because when does anyone get the chance, on the go most of the time – especially on holiday?
But unfortunately, that’s not good enough if you want to skip the spoil-sport tummy-torture. All it needs is ONE slip up, one forgetful moment with unwashed paws, and you’ll be chundering through the next few days.
One in the eye
Uh huh. So here’s a memory jogger.
You’re on the beach, yeah? Slapping on the suntan lotion. You wipe your hands down, but somehow, you touch your face – and the stuff gets in your eye.
Yeow, itch, instant anguish. Your whole day scuppered till you get back to the hotel, rinse your eye out and sit there with a damp cloth to your face for an hour. But let that tell you something.
That’s how norovirus works.
It’s a fact of life that we touch our faces all the time – 2,000-3,000 times a day for some of us. And that’s norovirus’s easiest way into our bodies – through the soft tissue of our eyes and mouth.
Suntan lotion on your fingers just loses you a day. Norovirus on your fingers can screw your whole holiday – or your wedding, or your graduation, or anything else it’s the pits to lose out on.
Yeah, so you know the drill.
WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS, WASH YOUR HANDS. Particularly after going to the loo – and always before food.
From lo-giene to hygiene
Shocking revelation isn’t it, to sit down to this slap-up dinner after a wonderful day – and suddenly realise that with all the places you’ve been and things you’ve done, you haven’t washed your hands since breakfast?
So Reality Check Two – handling norovirus means hiking our personal hygiene to a whole different level. Day-to-day, what we’re living with most of the time is “low-giene”.
Yeah, yeah, dirty hands. But you see these reports all the time, lots of people all getting sick at the same – what about food poisoning? Don’t vendors and restaurants serve food that’s contaminated?
For sure. And we all know the cause. Either the food itself is off, or is touched in preparation by someone with dirty hands.
Not as common as you might think, because anywhere that sells food wants to be in business today AND tomorrow. They also have laws to follow, standards to observe, codes of practice. So most of the time, they DO take care. A law suit could cost big money – and easily be the end of them.
So how can you tell if it’s self-inflicted or food poisoning?
Your fault or theirs?
Reality Check Three – the vomiting, the diarrhoea, they’re earth-shatteringly violent because that’s how norovirus spreads itself – as far and wide as possible, very quickly.
Even so, it takes time to assert itself – and from that, you can often tell how it started.
If an outbreak happens in ones and twos, it’s probably triggered by an individual – either from unwashed hands or by suspect food from an external source – something eaten before they arrived where you are. Unwashed hands most likely – suspect self-inflicted
If a whole crowd of people comes down together, that suggests they were exposed simultaneously – some kind of shared experience. That could be either from something they’ve eaten – they were all served the same dish at the same time. Unwashed hands most likely again – though this time in preparing a popular food dish – suspect staff hygiene lapse, or dodgy food source.
Norovirus also triggers by mishap, as happened in a Swiss hotel – bad luck for everyone in the place, who all came down with it at once. Flash flooding from a cloudburst overwhelmed the drains, forcing guests and staff to wade through water backed up from the toilets.
An outbreak was inevitable, however much everyone washed themselves and their clothes – furniture, fittings and all facilities were all heavily contaminated – instant infection until they were destroyed and the whole building sanitised.
Bad, bad boomerang
Which leads to Realty Check Four – the norovirus boomerang effect. The virus returns very easily to cause repeat outbreaks if it is not completely and utterly removed after the hit in the first place.
Cruise liners are really prone to this for two reasons. Lots of people close together in shared eating and living space, handling the same objects. Plus millions of nooks and crannies where the virus can hide during even the most rigorous scrub-downs.
The handling thing is a nightmare, as there are endless things that everybody touches that can pass on by contact. Called fomites, these germ-transfer items include glasses, knives and forks, deck chairs, gym equipment, poker chips, playing cards, courtesy bibles, whatever – all of which have to be individually sanitised to avoid repeats.
Repeat outbreaks happened recently with Fred Olsen Line’s Balmoral – struck down 6 times since 2009 – and a latest misfortune just last month that ruined an Old England to New England cruise for hundreds of passengers.
Holland America Line’s Caribbean cruise liner Amsterdam was also unlucky – having to cancel four trips in succession because of repeat outbreaks in 1982. It got so bad, the ship had to be taken out of service to ensure thorough decontamination – and new passengers were even warned before embarking that the ship had previously had problems it couldn’t get rid of.
Get out of jail, free
Doom and gloom? Avoid holidays like the plague?
You can just as easily catch norovirus at home, just by forgetting to wash your hands.
And that’s the key to a perfect holiday, even the stay-at-home kind. Always wash your hands before putting anything in your mouth. And keep your hands clean too. Your fingers might be safe, but the things you touch with them are almost certainly not – indoors or outdoors, germs are a reality we have to live with.
Recognising that, plan for when you can’t wash your hands too.
Always carry hand-wipes, even if they’re not antibacterial. Easy enough to use, right at the dinner table – and doing it properly will get rid norovirus and 99.9% of all other germs.
Handbag size antibacterial gel is good too – the alcohol base kills germs, though is not as effective as physically wiping them away.
Beyond that, be careful.
If somebody close to you comes down with norovirus, you don’t need to get it too. Obviously avoid accident areas of vomit or diarrhoea. Keep well clear, the yuk can spread several feet in all directions.
If you’re involved in a clean-up, wear gloves, cover your nose and mouth too. Wash all over thoroughly afterwards and discard your clothes for thorough washing too.
Clean beyond normal
Be aware though that normal disinfecting is unlikely to go far enough. The whole place needs a good going-over, especially every last nook and cranny if the virus is not to come back again.
Almost impossible with scrubbing and bleach, the easy way is with ionised hydrogen peroxide – misted up into the air by a Hypersteriliser and electrostatically charged so it disperses actively in all directions, killing airborne and surface germs deep into every crack and crevice.
All viruses and bacteria dead, no boomerang, no nothing.
Some nasty bug – a killer variant of cholera – spread by contaminated food.
Not from your five-star beach hotel of course.
But from your fingers.
Hidden dangers – unaware
Because of the crack-of-dawn start to your sight-seeing tour. A mad dash to the loo before you held the coach up. The market, the temple, the boat-trip, the beach barbie. An amazing day – but without one chance to wash your hands. Or even think about it.
A sizzling plate of food and you’re about to dive in – until you check the grubby fingerprints on your water glass.
Ew, that was you! A whole day’s yuck on your hands – which you don’t even see because germs are too small.
But you excuse yourself anyway and head for the bathroom – all glitter and glass and wafting incense. And luckily for you, a good sensible soap and running hot water.
Grubby fingerprints gone. Gunge from the handrails, manky stuff in the street, don’t-ask from the funny place – and yes, you’re not even aware of it, but faecal residue as well – poo from the loo.
Back home of course, you might get away with it. At worst a touch of norovirus and gone. Not nice while it happens, but you’ll survive. A reminder to ALWAYS wash your hands.
Not quite the same on holiday, especially in hot countries. Germs breed easier, transfer easier – and are very often more deadly. Not worth the risk. And totally avoidable if you wash your hands.
Of course that’s our problem isn’t it?
Our hands don’t LOOK dirty, so we think they’re clean. We’re just not dirt-aware enough to keep remembering. But who wants norovirus – or worse, to come home from their holiday in a box?
Keeping them clean is a schlep too, because germs are everywhere – billions and billions of viruses and bacteria – on every surface, in the air, on our own skin except where we’ve washed our hands. Everything might look harmless, but in reality is a potential nightmare, especially at the office.
OK, we can’t do much about germs surrounding us outside in the open, but we can do something about them in our living space. And the way we are with out modern lifestyles, we spend 90% of our time indoors anyway.
Uh huh. Not exactly the healthiest. WE might be harmless to ourselves, but indoors is a space we share with lots of others – school, work, eating out, entertainment.
Personal germ clouds
And every single one of us carries around our own swirling cloud of hidden bacteria – so uniquely distinct to each of us that cops in the near future will be able to ID we were there – just by reading our lingering germ-sign.
Which adds up to germs on everything around us – and clouds of germs towed around by others surrounding us. So easy to pick up – by breathing or touching something – and then absently touching our mouth or eyes.
What could it be? Norovirus, salmonella, campylobacter, or escherichia coli? Enough to hospitalise us if they’re bad, or finish us off if we’re unlucky. Or sometimes even worse. How about that cholera variant you had that close call with – from other colleagues back from holiday?
But like soap and water takes germs off your hands, you can take away the germs surrounding you too. Kinda important if you have an underlying medical condition that maybe even you don’t know about. Or one of your colleagues does – and a simple infection triggers a whole life-threatening experience.
Safe and sterile
Which is why all kinds of places are using ionised hydrogen peroxide – misting up their rooms to take down all viruses and bacteria. Safe and sterile every morning, in addition to clean floors and empty waste bins. No smells, no germs, no health problems.
Lucky escapes every day. And you never have to worry about them.
We mean seriously deadly, like cancer, typhoid, or the Black Death.
Would we see still loads of cruise ship passengers repeatedly coming down with norovirus?
Again & again, norovirus 2.0
Because it’s happened again – and keeps on happening. The latest “Old England to New England” voyage of a lifetime by Fred Olsen Line’s cruise ship Balmoral has just docked Stateside with a report of hundreds down with this pernicious vomiting bug.
Predictably because it’s the most likely cause, the cruise line reckon the virus was probably brought on board by a passenger. In the close quarters of a cruise ship, any outbreak is difficult to contain, with the result that 252 victims have been reported – slightly more than the 7 claimed by the cruise line.
We say predictable because norovirus is highly contagious and spreads most easily by direct contact. It only requires 10 norovirus cells to infect someone – so anyone coming aboard a ship after a long day’s sight-seeing, touching all kinds of things with little or no opportunity to wash hands, could be Patient Zero.
Yes, norovirus could quite easily have been brought on board by any passenger over the years – anybody eating a sandwich ashore with unwashed hands could have been the carrier – but repeated outbreaks every year begin to look like the ship itself could be cause, despite intensive “barrier cleaning” between voyages.
Check out any ship at the dock and maintaining hygiene is an immediate and obvious problem. On every mooring rope are cone-shaped metal plates – rat guards to prevent disease-carrying rodents stowing away.
Sure those sweeping angular lines are impressive, but inside the hull they mean all kinds of tight, irregularly shaped spaces that are difficult to access and even more difficult to keep clean. Of necessity, some spaces are not accessible at all – like deep down under the deck plates, where oil-laden water sloshes round the bilges.
The ultimate survivor
No good against an adversary like norovirus – able to survive for days and even months on hard surfaces. Or even years in still water – perhaps not the bilges, but how about the drinking water tanks?
And just how thorough are those between voyage “barrier cleans” anyway? A cruise ship costs around £1.5 million per day just to keep afloat, so how much time can its owners afford to have it docked for cleaning?
Bear in mind that turnaround time between cruises can be as short as eight hours – in which the ship has to be cleaned out, re-victualled, refuelled, new linen loaded and made up, the works.
Come on gang! The meter’s running, let’s get this sucker back to sea ASAP.
Hmm, makes you wonder what “barrier cleaning” is, hey?
How clean is “clean” in 8 hours?
There is also “terminal cleaning” which looks the better option – variously defined as removing all detachable objects, cleaning lighting and air duct surfaces in the ceiling, then cleaning everything downward to the floor.
Items removed – fomites such as furniture, carpets, drapes, table cloths, cutlery, taps, basins, playing cards, poker chips, books, bottles, glasses, coasters and all bar hardware – are thoroughly sanitised before being returned.
Uh huh, not exactly easy in eight hours.
Then there is the issue of HOW the ship is cleaned – how long exposure time the disinfecting agents have to be sure of killing the norovirus. From studies by the CDC, not everything works – not bleach, not glutaraldehyde , not ethanol, not quats, not steam.
Nor do all techniques – not applied everywhere, not enough contact time, not effective at killing the microorganisms involved.
You missed a bit
Take just one instance.
Passengers spend a lot of time clutching the ship’s rail, excited about arrivals, excited about departures – or simply hanging on to look cool, sipping their piña coladas in the sunset. Does someone really go round and wipe down all the ship’s rails – and all the deck chairs come to that – or do they get forgotten, being outside on the deck?
Why does no-one seem to be taking this seriously? Norovirus is ALREADY a killer that takes down 200,000 people every year – usually through dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. Imagine it up there with cancer, typhoid and Black Death.
How would it be if we saw some heavyweight death numbers – mostly from people not washing their hands – and the rest from things not being cleaned thoroughly enough?
Because norovirus is not going to go away. It’s going to continue to mutate and proliferate – until in nuisance value alone it does the numbers, clobbering productivity and generally making life unliveable.
Sorted, sort of
OK, so the ship sort of gets cleaned and goes back into service – and another outbreak happens ten months from now – dirty hands coming aboard, or spreading out from the unprocessed air gap under the linen storage on “D” deck?
So they scrap the ship and build a new one, the problem isn’t going to go away.
Not unless we learn to wash our hands before they ever go anywhere near our mouths. And we start using properly effective measures to eliminate all germs from enclosed spaces – including under linen storage and in bilge openings.
All it takes is to mist up the air space with ionised hydrogen peroxide penetrating everywhere – and germs are electrostatically attracted like iron filings to a magnet, oxidised to nothing in seconds flat.
Maybe they’ll even get sensible and build a spray system in – exactly like the sprinkler system already used for fires. Imagine that, a self-sterilising cruise ship – able to decontaminate itself completely in just hours while in port for turnaround – or disinfect selected areas completely at will, while still out on voyage.
And if we still haven’t learned to wash our hands?
Feed everybody Cornish pasties. That thick crust round the edge was invented specially for tin miners to grab hold and eat safe – even though their hands were coated in deadly arsenic from the tin ore.
Not so deadly any more after hydrogen peroxide, no norovirus either.
Though pasties might get monotonous on a seven-day cruise.
Even less in the town you live in. And probably zero in your street.
Out of sight, out of mind
OK, now how many germs do you see?
Also none, right?
But they’re there, alright. Just too small to see .
A single cell of norovirus, everybody’s favourite cruise ship vomiting bug, is 3 microns across – a 5,000th the width of a human hair. A single cell of that other tummy bug regular, escherichia coli, is even smaller at 2 microns – the same as rhinovirus, the common cold bug.
And it only takes 10 norovirus cells, ganged up together, to infect you if they get in the right place. The kind of thing you do rubbing your skin – they scrape together, 5,000 could fit on a hair – next thing you touch your eyes or your mouth, and they’re in like Flynn.
Four hours later the cramps start – and the upchucks – and the runs. Worse than any terrorists, more like the end of the world.
And these germs are floating round you EVERY SINGLE DAY.
That doesn’t include the germs already in the room either – left behind on countertops and work surfaces, clinging to cleaning cloths and sponges, piled up on phone keypads and light switches, or just floating through the air on the tiniest breeze, waiting for you to breathe them in – lighter than dust, lighter than smoke, lighter even than oxygen particles.
Which means everything you touch, you pick up more – your hands are laden with them. And you don’t want to know what happens if you don’t wash them off when you go to the loo – most of us have such bad habits, we should be vomiting our guts out every day.
But even washing our hands is not enough. Because there’s viruses and bacteria still coating everything around – still breezing along through the air.
Next thing you touch, next breath you take – and they’re at you again. And it’s luck of the draw if your immune system deals with them or not – guided by the 100 trillion or so NECESSARY bacteria that you have in your own gut.
Usually these bacteria gang up together and crowd those pesky interlopers out. But not if your system’s down – you’re stressed, you have a cold, or indigestion from eating too fast, or a headache pressing in from work piling up.
Sussing the odds
So what are your chances?
In any home there are around 8,000 different TYPES of germs hanging about – in numbers from thousands to millions. Which is how come, at any one time, that there are around 300,000 germs on EACH of your hands.
300,000 times more than the number of terrorists busting in through your bedroom window.
And make no error, some of these germs are deadly. Even norovirus, usually just a few days discomfort, hospitalises 3,000 and kills around 80 people each year – from complications with severe dehydration.
Flu bugs of course, can kill even more.
So can sepsis. Never heard of it? Get complications from a simple paper cut and your whole body goes into immune system meltdown. Annual death toll in the UK, around 44,000.
And germs can cause other complications like cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory or liver disorders – accounting for 150,000 deaths a year.
More dangerous than terrorists
All of which means you’re half a million times more likely to die from germs on your hands than from terrorists attacking you.
If that happens of course, there’s not much you can do. At the end of a gun, you’re basically stuck with whatever the terrorist asks for.
But germs you can fight back against – even take them out of existence altogether.
All it takes is the push of a button on a Hypersteriliser – and a fine, dry mist of hydrogen peroxide oxidises ALL virus and bacteria to nothing. No chance of any infection, everywhere around you is sterile.
The cops have nothing like that to deal with terrorists. But at five deaths a year on average from terrorist acts, there’s more of us die from bee stings.
OK, so you’re safe enough – at least from terrorists.
Just make sure your hands are clean before you do anything.
Even though norovirus is about the most virulent bug there is.
It doesn’t have to happen in the first place – and it doesn’t have to happen AGAIN.
Because the real cause, pretty near always, is our own sloppy hygiene.
Even when it’s running riot – tens, or even hundreds of people down at a time – somebody somewhere didn’t clean something, and the germs found their target.
Mind you, this is not a bug to take chances with. It only takes 10 particles of norovirus to transfer from your skin to your mouth or the sensitive tissue round your eye and BING! You’re hit. Way more potent than the common cold of flu, which needs at least 25 particles – and even then, you have to be unlucky.
Not so, norovirus. Just the smallest contact is all it takes. A door handle, a keypad, a handful of change. Inevitable if you then eat something with your fingers – like a slice of pizza at a fairground.
Hit by our own sloppy hygiene
Easy-peasy fast food – easy-peasy infection. Because washing your hands when you’re having fun is not even on the radar, is it? And how many fairgrounds have proper places to wash your hands?
Or, come to that, how many of us remember to carry around antiseptic wipes or gel, to cover the certainty there’ll be no place to wash up? Or even if we do, to pull the stuff out and use it?
Who remembers washing hands AT ALL when you’re having fun? Or even thinks about the possibility you could run into trouble?
Which is how it happens – in a microsecond. The bug is in you and you don’t even know it.
And you won’t for the next four hours – maybe even longer. For some people, it can be next day.
But then, as all of us know, all hell breaks loose. The most unbearable cramps, violent vomiting, and totally uncontrollable diarrhoea.
Something you ate, for sure. It usually is. So you think back. You remember your last meal, whatever it was – and immediately think “food poisoning”. Something was off, the place was unclean, you’re going to sue them to pieces.
Never a thought about sloppy hygiene. Not the slightest recall that you never washed your hands before the time, or even most of the day. You’ve found your scapegoat, the place that served you last. Badmouth them to all your friends, write a rant on TripAdvisor, sue.
One finger pointing, three fingers pointing back
Because 9 times out of 10, you’re down with poisoned food, not food poisoning. Food contaminated by the germs you ALREADY HAD on your fingers – from the handrail in the street outside, or the light switch by the door, or any one of a thousand other places.
Much more likely though, from residual poo on your hands last time you hit the loo. A yucky thought, yes – but it’s an awkward truth, most of us don’t bother to wash our hands after the loo. And even if we do, most of us never even do it properly.
Five seconds squishing under the tap – not washing at all, just spreading things around. And germs just love warm, damp skin on which to thrive and multiply. We are our own worst enemies.
Which means all those cramps, upchucks and rocket blasts in the toilet are our own doing. We brought them on ourselves and now we’re paying for it – spreading spew and splatter all over the place.
There’s a reason for that too. The exploding violence of spew and splatter.
That’s how norovirus spreads itself. Using your own body convulsions to propel itself far and wide, to infect as many other victims as possible. To spread and hide and lie in wait. To multiply and take over, ensuring re-infection is inevitable.
And very efficient with it too. Not even 3 microns across, this microscopic nasty is small enough to get through the HEPA or High-Efficiency Particulate Air filters in most aircraft, hospital and restaurant ventilation systems – riding the air, lighter than smoke or dust, easily spreading EVERYWHERE.
Which is why so many norovirus clean-ups always fail. They never plan for EVERYWHERE, so the virus boomerangs back.
Hello! Remember me? Enjoy the runs and upchucks last time? Here we go again!
The job wasn’t complete, so it has to be done again. And again. And again. Until either people get their act together, or the outbreak runs out of momentum.
In the meantime that highly contagious spreading misery bug is everywhere. The patches on the carpet, in the loo, on the curtains, on skin, on clothing, in hair, and spinning through the air. Spread as far and wide as violent upchucks and squitters can force them. In cracks and crevices, under and behind things. Lurking on every surface anybody touches – most of all, let’s say it again, spinning through the air.
Regular onceovers are never enough
Which means coming along with a mop and bucket full of Cif isn’t going to crack it. Nor even industrial strength Domestos. Because no way anybody is going to reach all those tiny nooks and crannies, or get into all the corners, or reach right up walls and ceilings into the light fittings, or round all the cables of the equipment in the corner.
Dead easy of course for a microscopic bug wafting on the breeze from the door, settling yards away from the nearest upchuck incident, ready to settle on the first raincoat as it’s pulled off, rucking up together with 90 of its mates as the person wipes her face, in to the body round the eye socket… Bingo!
And that’s even if our poor victim DOES wash her hands. Her fingers might be clean, but the bug is picked up from the things she touches. The norovirus secret, laughing at us.
Except we can laugh too.
Because there IS a way to take down norovirus, tenacious though it may be – even from the air around us, even from every tiny crack and crevice.
Total germ destruction
Fact: no germ comes back from treatment with airborne hydrogen peroxide. A few seconds contact and cells are ripped apart, DNA destroyed – all viruses and bacteria are gone.
Press one button and it generates a fine, dry mist of ionisedhydrogen peroxide – electrostatically charged so its molecules penetrate everywhere, repelled by each other and trying to escape from themselves. In doing so they force themselves through the air, hard up against work surfaces, countertops, floors, walls and ceilings, into cracks and crevices.
The lurking norovirus and other germs don’t stand a chance. With an opposite electrostatic charge of their own, the hydrogen peroxide particles are actively drawn to them like a magnet. Forty minutes to allow proper dispersal for the average room and the place is totally sterile.
Oh no! Vomit at the office. Professional cool and polish, gone in an instant. Feeling awful – and degraded – the end of the world.
Not your fault though, right? You couldn’t help it. One minute OK, the next…
Except the inconvenient truth is, it probably WAS your fault. Not deliberate or anything like that, but highly likely it was CAUSED by you.
We’re ALL bad
Now don’t feel bad, we’re all probably just as guilty. Because nine times out of ten your unfortunate experience is not caused by something you ate. More than likely it was from something you swallowed after touching it by hand.
Easily done – that hasty pastry gulped down with your flat white before the all-important 9.00 meeting. Eaten with your fingers, right? You had to lick the icing off afterwards. Four or five hours for the stuff to get down to your gut and react with your internal bacteria…
Excuse me, I don’t feel so good.
Upchuck all over the conference room floor.
The blame game
So how is it your fault? You didn’t do anything. That horrible heave-ho came out of nowhere.
Ah, that’s just the point. You didn’t do anything. And that’s why the rest of us are probably just as guilty. Because the one thing we’re always NOT doing though we know we should, is wash our hands.
Especially after going to the loo and before eating food. Yes, it’s shocking, but 62% of men and 40% of women NEVER wash their hands after going to the toilet.
You can see it can’t you? Running late because the tubes were crowded and you couldn’t get on. Mad dash to the office via the coffee shop. Quick detour to the loo and check make-up. Gulp coffee and pastry – you burnt your mouth remember? Grab your laptop and go. 30 seconds to spare and your presentation was on first. No time to wash your hands – you just got unlucky.
Because most of the time we get away with it. This time, you just got caught.
Better hope it’s not norovirus though – or any of the other real nasties. Four, five hours? It usually takes longer, more like eight. And it won’t be just your fault you made yourself sick – you could bring the whole office down.
You see, norovirus is highly contagious and gruesomely efficient. That’s why it spreads so explosively – the world record for long distance vomit – and don’t even think about the diarrhoea.
OK, so you slink home in a taxi, new silk blouse and your jacket ruined, icky vomit all through your hair. So what happens with the clean up?
Yeah well, it’s one of those accidents nobody is prepared for. Paper towels and dishwashing liquid in the kitchen, bleach if they’re lucky. Wrinkled noses and pulled faces attacking the patch on the carpet. Hopefully the night cleaning crew will fix it when they swamp out in the evening.
Except they won’t be prepared either, norovirus is smarter than that. Shampoo the wet patch, OK. Vomit gone.
And the rest of the room around that? The chair legs? The conference table? The air itself? Norovirus particles are as small as 2 microns, too small to see, finer than cigarette smoke – so they could be floating around for anything up to a week.
Everybody gets it, easy
All it takes is 10 particles, on somebody’s cheek, scraped together as they rub their eye, into the soft tissue round the cornea – next victim, prepped and ready. Picked up by others too – off the conference table, the door handle, the light switch – half a dozen targets.
They go to their desks, wake up their computers. Norovirus on the keyboards, the desk phone, the meeting minutes they circulate to their colleagues.
Tomorrow morning, a dozen staff calling sickies – with more to come because the germs are still in the air, still on all the high-touch areas not processed by the swamp-out team. The whole office down – vomit, cramps, diarrhoea, the works.
Your fault. You could get sued.
Well, yes. To begin with.
But also the company’s.
They have a duty of care to ensure the workplace is safe to work in – the floors are solid, the place doesn’t leak, there’s no mould, or drafts, or rats running around, and you don’t shock yourself half to death flipping the light switches.
And there’s no germs.
How safe is safe?
For instance if legionnaire’s disease was lurking in the air conditioning ducts you’d quite rightly be able to sue them for not providing a safe and secure hazard-free place to work. They’d have to compensate you AND pay to have the condition fixed – possibly even face criminal charges.
Norovirus is no different – and way more common than legionnaire’s disease – more common even than flu or the common cold.
Your company might shrug it off and say it’s not their problem – but keeping desks, chairs, computers, carpets, curtains and the air itself safe from germs is just as much part of their duty of care as making sure none of you freeze to death in winter.
You started it. But everybody else came down with the bug because of them.
You didn’t wash your hands. They didn’t ensure the place was germ-free afterwards. And most of the time everyone just accepts it’s just one of those things. You failed in your duty to yourself and your colleagues. They failed in their duty of care to all of you.
Yet it’s so easily fixable. And just maybe all of you are negligent in not knowing that it is.
Your personal upchuck could have been prevented by soap and water. Or your company could have been smart and put a pack of antibacterial wipes or hand gel on everybody’s desk – because they know that staff are busy and frequently forget to wash their hands – and even though it gets wiped off every night, everybody’s workstation is a major source of hazardous germs.
No, it won’t work with heavy bleach and more elbow grease, rubbing and scrubbing. The smell will be unbearable and the airborne germs will remain untouched. Steam cleaning won’t work either – germs need very high temperatures and at least five minutes contact time to be destroyed – not possible hose-piping around so that everything is wet – ineffective against airborne germs too.
More effective and far cheaper is to eliminate germs with a Hypersteriliser.
After the usual cleaning, a wheel-bin-sized unit is rolled in to mist up the place with ionised hydrogen peroxide. Electrostatically charged, microscopic particles of hydrogen peroxide actively clamour to get away from each other, spreading everywhere, forcing themselves into every crack and crevice to escape.
That same electrostatic charge causes them to reach out and grab at viruses and bacteria everywhere – on surfaces, under them, behind things, in the air itself. Contact time is only seconds, during which the germs’ cell structure and DNA is completely destroyed.
Sterile and safe
Allow forty minutes to process the entire room and the whole place is sterilised – no germs, no nothing – safe. No law suits either, or anyone suffering upchucks. Unless they forgot to wash their hands before climbing into lunch – or there really is something off with their chicken liver pâté – not cooked enough, perhaps.
Feel better? If it’s any consolation, norovirus only lasts two or three days – unpleasant yes, but it does come to an end.