All round the country, parents are breathing a sigh of relief. Their children have survived the first week of school.
Seasoned Mums take such anxiety in their stride, quickly forgetting how worried they were. How they had only days ago convinced themselves of the worst – and that their precious offspring were soon to be no more.
It’s OCD overkill of course, but such apprehension is actually useful.
Not because Betsy-kins will be chomped by another child or have her foot run over by a tea trolley.
Crazy things happen in one’s head, but the realities are a lot simpler. There is therapy that the worst thing was only a splinter, or that another girl stole her sweater.
Yes, our kids are at more hazard with other kids, but in ways we can’t see. Thirty children in a classroom is one thing. The billions and billions of microbes that surround each one of them is quite another.
Children are remarkably resilient. They don’t break like glass or china. Nor do they come down with one bug after another because of these microbes. Their systems are used to living with them, so nothing happens. Eating mud-pies doesn’t kill them.
It’s different at school. All of a sudden, the “home” microbes their bodies are used to meet up with a whole load of others. Thirty children in one room. Sudden exposure. It can happen.
In the classroom – at assembly, where all the classes are together – in the refectory for lunch. Betsy-kins comes home feeling funny – and the next day she’s in hospital.
Except it’s all entirely preventable. As long as none of those germs gets INSIDE the body, all our children are safe.
So the trick is to clobber them first. The germs, that is.
They might be deadly, but ALL viruses and bacteria are vulnerable.
Outside the body, swirling in the air, there is nothing to protect them. Even though they’re too microscopically small to see.
Shove extra oxygen atoms at them and they die. Their cell structure is ripped apart, they cannot survive. And that applies to deadly malaria or yellow fever just as much as the common cold. No germ can avoid it. Whatever the pathogen, oxidising them is the end.
Which is what hydrogen peroxide does. The same stuff our own Mums used to put on cuts and scratches. That makes girls’ hair go blonde. That we use as a mouthwash to make our teeth go white.
And it’s so easy too. Mist the classrooms with it before the kids get there and the whole place is sterilised. There ‘s even a machine that does it automatically.
It puts out a super-fine mist that’s as light as the air itself and reaches everywhere. With a low, low hydrogen peroxide content that’s about the same as the mouthwash. Safe because it resolves after use into oxygen and water. Super-efficient because it’s ionised.
Ask any cruise ship passenger, this stomach-churning nasty strikes in warm weather as well as cold. Blue sky holiday? Holiday blues, more like.
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.
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.