Here’s this machine that, for all the world, could be a compact office photocopier.
Except this particular box of tricks takes out viruses and bacteria – attacking like a death ray to destroy their DNA.
Safe, fast, sterile
Five minutes later, all germs are gone. Everywhere the death ray probed is sterile.
A death ray that is, for viruses and bacteria.
Potent for humans too, as we all know. The energy that powers it is the same that gives you sunburn – ultraviolet light. Overdo the exposure, and you’re in for an uncomfortable time.
But with this nifty Hyperpulse machine, you’re the one calling the shots.
Ultraviolet to the rescue
OK, apart from sunburn you’ve probably experienced UV before – the teenager’s big giggle. It makes that cool purple glow on the dance floor in discotheques – triggering bright fluorescent colours and showing white underwear under dark clothing.
Ah yes, but that’s not the same UV.
Also known as “black light” the show-biz version is longwave ultraviolet – UV-A. Pretty well harmless and very popular for special effects.
The stuff the Hyperpulse emits is way more powerful. Which is why it needs care.
This is UV-C – very short wavelength – on the fringes of becoming X-rays.
And no wonder it kills germs.
No wonder you should stay out of the room when it’s in use too. You don’t want to risk eye or skin damage. But if you’re curious, you can watch safely through a glass window. The short wavelength UV cannot pass through.
HIgh intensity energy
Start the machine with its remote control – and first thing a glass tube pops up out of the top, like an extending periscope. Inside is the xenon light source, the secret of the Hyperpulse’s efficiency.
Back in the good old days, germ-killing UV-C rays were generated by mercury vapour lamps – the same light source as in those ultra-bright streetlamps. The silver ones, not the orange – those are sodium vapour.
Continuous light from the mercury vapour lamps exposed the room being treated to UV-C, killed the germs and the place was sterile. Except it took several hours to do.
Technology has moved on from there, which is how the Shield Hyperpulse gets its name.
Split-second power killing
Like lightning or a photographer’s flashgun, the powerful 200 watt xenon lamp discharges UV-C energy in split-second concentrated bursts – pulsed at one second intervals to regenerate the charge.
It does the same job as the mercury vapour, but in 5 to 10 minutes, depending on room size.
That makes the Hyperpulse perfect for situations demanding rapid turn-around. A super-busy A&E, or a dentist’s surgery. Quick sterile blitz between high volume patients – 10 minutes and the facility is ready for use again.
Impossible by hand in the same time – not even just the high touch areas, like bedside rails, over-bed tables, television controls, bedside and bathroom grab-bars, or the toilet seat in the patient’s bathroom.
Which means, working under pressure in time-crunch conditions, that any form or sterilising doesn’t get done beyond a very quick wipedown. Less than perfect in a world where HAIs are an increasing concern.
Time vs efficiency
There is of course, a downside. A trade-off between quick results and maximum effectiveness. Hence the machine’s only 99,999% germicidal performance or Log 5 kill rate.
Like any light, the pulsed xenon rays cause shadows – areas where the UV-C does not penetrate – the reverse side of beds and treatment room furniture, behind or under objects in it.
One way round this is multiple exposure from different positions, moving the machine in between. Another is to position mirrors where regular coverage is required. Both extending the time to make sterile.
Better still is to supplement Hyperpulse sessions with a nightly follow up by Hypersteriliser – full Log 6 treatment with fine-mist hydrogen peroxide plasma to ensure the entire room is 99.9999% sterile.
Hiking hygiene habits higher
Expect to see more of the Hyperpulse. With antibiotics become less effective as pathogens become resistant to them, preventative hygiene is becoming more vital daily.
Over-stretched A&E working flat out, with worries about c.diff, MRSA, VRE, CRE, or acinetobacter?
Well, not exactly, because they’ve got the door closed.
With good reason.
That room is being sterilised by high energy pulses of ultraviolet light at wavelengths between 200 and 320 nanometres.
Any germ in there – any virus, any bacteria – is getting its DNA blitzed to hell and gone, with no coming back.
Five minutes and the surgery is ready for the next patient.
Sterilised for every patient
They call the machine that does it The Rumbler.
Because it rumbles on the floor – all finished in oak at Malmsey Dental Practice – quicker for an easy wipe-down. Staff are hot on hygiene at Malmsey, and the patients love it.
More accurately they love Gloria, the petite New Zealand gap-year student they’ve hired to push The Rumbler around.
Practice manager Pat Hunniford’s niece, she came in one day to see the set-up and grabbed the machine when there was an awkward glitch moment between patients.
The entire dental staff fell in love with her smile, and she made the patients feel like a million dollars as she ushered them in to their appointments.
Especially when they realised that The Rumbler she was wheeling around totally sterilised the place.
With that smile and that reassurance, the Malmsey dentists hired Gloria on the spot, the ultimate natural.
Open wide – and no germs
So now Glorious Gloria wheels the machine to each of the surgeries between patients, shushes the dental staff out for their ten-minute breather, activates the machine, checks the waiting room while it runs, then switches off it to rumble into the next surgery and go find the next patients.
Business is booming.
There are four dentists at Malmsey, and two hygienists.
Thanks to Gloria, they’re booked solid for the next two months – and the waiting list for new patients could re-paper reception.
Because Gloria is way more than a pretty face. An intending med student herself, she tells everyone how the UV rays from The Rumbler sterilise each surgery before every patient, so she’s actually keeping them all safe.
With her Hollywood smile – a cosmetic sales incentive all by itself – she explains how nobody must look at the machine while it’s running to avoid any harm.
Safer, stronger, faster
It’s pulsed UV from a powerful xenon bulb that is way more intense, yet safer than the old mercury vapour lamps they used to use. Faster too, which is how they can sterilise every surgery before every patient.
Pat Hunniford organised the appointments system to allow for the time – and staff feel more motivated with the frequent breaks to make phone calls, catch up on gossip, or simply chill in a way they never could anywhere else.
Again and again they tell Gloria she has a guaranteed career in PR, or modelling, or even in show-biz.
But she just flashes that amazing smile and carries on with The Rumbler.
A whole-room autoclave
It’s not a rumbler at all of course, it’s a Hyperpulse – the same size as a small photocopier – with a tall xenon bulb that pops up and down like a periscope when the machine is activated.
Not many practices have the Hyperpulse, but when the dentists realised they could sterilise their whole rooms as well as their instruments for every patient, it quickly became a must-have. (Tweet this)
Meanwhile summer is coming and they know that Glorious Gloria is going to give them the best attendance records yet.
They also know the clock is ticking.
Gloria’s mind is made up – and she fully intends to be first in line when the University of Auckland opens its doors at the end of February next year.
Sad for the dentists. But they also know they have the happiest – and healthiest – dental patients in the whole of UK.
Norovirus, ugh! Not only does it feel like the end of the world – seems nothing can stop the dreaded repeat outbreak.
Repeat, repeat and repeat – it boomerangs back and back again. Highly contagious, seriously pernicious – despite the most meticulous deep clean procedures.
Which either means it really IS impossible to beat. Or whatever we’re doing to stop it simply isn’t good enough.
Harsh truth when a thorough job usually involves ripping the place apart. Head-blowing bleach stink with hard scrubbing everywhere for hours – and STILL the bug comes back again.
Know your enemy
Yes, but norovirus is no ordinary stomach bug. It’s the ultimate survivor.
For a start, it only takes ten microscopic particles of the virus to start an infection. Compare that with flu, at maybe between ten and forty times that – and you’re looking at a much more vicious enemy.
Vicious is right.
It’s also why norovirus is so violent – crippling cramps, projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhoea.
Exactly right to spread itself as far and wide as possible – the widest opportunity to start new infections with any newcomers who unsuspectingly chance along.
Plus of course, it might only infect on contact – but it DISPERSES through the air.
Well sure, each particle is barely 2 microns across – light enough to ride the air currents in any room for hours or days. Breathe in just ten of them through your mouth, swallow – and chances are you’ll be hanging onto the loo in utter misery, just 12 hours from now.
And those horrid upchucks?
Yes gruesome, but think of how far they reach and spread.
Across the impact area on the furniture and floor, obviously. Exactly the right place to move in with mop and bucket. But how about underneath? Or behind?
And those are just the big gobs of stuff.
How about the individual particles swirling around – settling everywhere or still riding the breeze? Reach those with sponge or squeegee too?
Wipe down the surfaces, yes – but how about in the coils of power cables, or down the back of electronic equipment? How about the sheets of paper lying on the nearest table – the first thing to be removed by unthinking hands?
The floors get scrubbed. The walls too. Every surface is rubbed down within an inch of its life.
But seldom underneath. And seldom in those hard-to-reach places that nobody thinks about. Cracks, crevices – tiny places where a 2 micron particle might survive for weeks on end.
Which means deep clean or not – the infection never went away in the first place.
Start using the room again, and those norovirus particles are only too ready to come out and do their thing. Not gone. And certainly not forgotten. Repeat, repeat and repeat.
Not good enough
And anyhow, how effective is the stuff we’re using?
That bleach solution might be strong enough to rip your head off, but how does it stack up against a survivor like norovirus? A wipe with even a concentrated solution won’t crack it – to kill norovirus, bleach has to be in continuous contact for at least TWENTY minutes.
So even though a surface is treated, it still might not be safe.
Same thing with steam.
You can give yourself a nasty burn if your not careful. But to kill norovirus, even that kind of heat takes TWO minutes of constant contact or more to do the job. Like bacteria, viruses can survive in the frozen Antarctic, or live happily in a seething volcano. What’s a little steam bath, now and then?
And how are you applying it? With a waving hosepipe?
Well, yes. Because if you did apply superhot steam to everything continuously for two minutes, it would be sodden through and probably useless – shorted out or fused, if it’s anything electric.
And have you seen what bleach does to surfaces with prolonged contact? Shrivelled up or corroded very quickly.
Which puts us where? Hours of work down the drain and the bug still present. Repeat, repeat and repeat.
We think we’re safe, but norovirus is just biding its time. Ready for its repeat performance, just when you thought it was safe.
Money, money, money – not just health
Don’t worry, we’re not the only ones. How about an expensive investment like a cruise ship? Hundreds of passengers, sick and ready to sue.
Thousands down the drain and STILL norovirus comes back – like Fred Olsen Line’s Balmoral, struck down SIX times since 2009.
All of which says, if you want to get rid of norovirus, there’s no pussy-footing around.
Conventional cleaning just won’t work. And that’s all it is anyway – cleaning.
It’s not actually sterilising – making germs dead, so they can’t infect anything.
Repeat, repeat and repeat
The job’s not done and norovirus is still lurking.
OK, so get unconventional.
Think killing germs, not just cleaning.
Especially getting to the airborne stuff that never gets treated anyway. Yet 80% of pretty well every room we live in is nothing else!
You can throw technology at it, like ultraviolet radiation – that will at least do something.
But there’s a downside to that too. Light can’t go round corners, unless you have lots of mirrors. So blitzing a room with UV means either a lot of exposures in different positions – or manhandling great unwieldy pieces of shiny metal (glass would break).
Oh and yes – a variation on the contact time. The potency of UV as a germ-killer falls off rapidly with distance from the light source. Unless everything’s within about ten feet, those pesky norovirus particles won’t be cashing in their chips just yet.
Which leaves fogging.
Like the insect control people do when they fumigate a house – pump a load of germ-killer into the air and let it swirl around. The usual choice is hydrogen peroxide, an effective germ killer and less toxic than most alternatives.
But also fraught with a few problems.
Just getting it into the air doesn’t make it reach behind, underneath or on top of things. There’s nothing to push it into cracks or crevices either.
It will kill the germs alright, norovirus included. But without effective dispersal to reach everywhere, there’s still nothing to prevent repeat outbreaks.
And just consider fogging the place up with a vapour. Lots of moisture to play havoc with sensitive equipment and paper. Enough that a second machine is necessary alongside the fogging one – to dry everything out after the vapour has done its work.
Plus there’s the old question of contact time. As a vapour the stuff is heavier than air, so doesn’t stay airborne long.
To compensate, a strong solution is necessary – 32%, about the maximum permissible without being totally toxic. Yes it kills, but it’s also pretty corrosive – not good on plastics or sensitive surfaces – and certainly not good for computers.
So what, repeat norovirus outbreaks are inevitable – even with technology?
The RIGHT technology
Depends on the technology.
Because it IS possible to mist up the place with a safe solution of just 6% hydrogen peroxide. And have it spread everywhere by ionising it – so it tries to escape from itself, yet reaches out and clamps hold of germs as it does so.
Contact time is less than 2 minutes – because ionising changes the stuff into a plasma, which multiplies its oxidising power several times over. Forty minutes tops, and the whole place is sterile – no germs anywhere, not even norovirus – repeat or no repeat.
OK, yes, this a blatant plug. But if you’re as sick of one norovirus repeat after another as we are, you’ll be glad to know there’s a system that works.
And not just on norovirus either – on everything.
Your way of giving germs the same dirty treatment they give you.
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.
Reference links checked and working at time of posting. However, some URLs may be taken down or re-sited later. If your link goes nowhere or you get an Error 404 message, please accept our apologies.
You should be OK with purified air. But every system has its drawbacks.
Which means you may not be as safe as you think you are – even with the latest triple-whammy set up.
One reason is how most purifying systems work.
Passive instead of active.
A great big fan system sits in one place, sucking air through it. Filters next to the fan sift out contaminants – and the air goes round again, circulating for reuse. Purified.
That’s usually pretty good with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) systems, which filter out particles down to a very small 0.03 microns. Fine for fumes and exhaust sucked from outside, as well as smoke, dust, emissions from from building materials, furnishings, cleaning products, electronic equipment, toiletries, people and pets.
Not so fine for harmful viruses, bacteria, protozoa and fungi – which are often very much smaller. A typical cough-sniffle cold bug like rhinovirus might be as small as 0.002 microns. Too small to be filtered out, too light for gravity to affect it. So it rides the air, round and round – waiting for us to breathe it in. Not purified.
An efficient alternative is to use ultraviolet light. A fan draws air in through a long exposure tube – the “killing zone”. Ultraviolet attacks the microorganism’s DNA, rendering it unable to reproduce. If contact is long enough, it becomes neutral and effectively dead.
But how long is long enough? To make sure of a kill, the air has to move fairly slowly. It can’t recirculate fast like the HEPA filter – unless it has a whacking great bulb. And if the bulb is too big, it produces too much ozone – an effective antimicrobial, yes, but hazardous to humans.
Those are the passive systems. Air goes to the germ-killer, not the other way around. It works only where there’s airflow. In quiet corners and along walls, the air is still and unmoving. Particulates and microbes are there for keeps. Not purified.
Active – go get ’em
More effective is to be active – to take the germ-killer to the air. To force it out positively, driving it to disperse in all directions pro-actively. To invade the air totally.
The vehicle is a dry ultra-fine hydrogen peroxide mist, which kills germs by oxidising them. The mist is ionised to become a plasma, forcing itself away in all directions, penetrating everywhere.
The actual solution is mild, only 6%. But ionising transforms it, producing further antimicrobials – hydroxyl radicals, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, ozone and ultraviolet. From eco-friendly 6%, to turbo-charged 600%.
Electrostatic attraction causes oxygen atoms to grab oppositely charged viruses and bacteria. They are physically ripped apart – and the mist safely reverts to oxygen and water, which evaporates. Sterilised, purified, safe and secure.
OK, there is a downside.
Hydrogen peroxide won’t take out non-biological contaminants with anything like the same efficiency. Pollutants like volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone and carbon monoxide, particulate matter and fibres are better removed by the regular HEPA filters.
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?
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 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.
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.
Anywhere an incision needs infection control – unthinkable without effective antibiotics to protect us from harmful pathogens.
Wonder-drugs, but beginning to be useless.
Because after more than half a century of intensive and continuous use – numerous bacteria have developed resistance – our miracle medicines are about as effective as Smarties.
Any visit to hospital, any accident or infection, and we’re all of us susceptible to an increasingly common slew of superbugs – MRSA, salmonella, streptococcus, c.difficile, TB, gonorrhoea and e.coli.
Which means doctors can’t use antibiotics in the critical situations where they need to. Not without taking chances. Or working the long way round. The hard way.
By ramping hygiene levels up high enough that infection can’t happen – washing hands, and making the surroundings sterile.
Hike up hygiene levels or else
Which is why a lot of hospitals are advancing beyond traditional wipe and scrub methods. Just because it smells of chlorine doesn’t mean it’s sterile. Nor does rub-and-scrub always disinfect everything. Under tables, behind cupboards, tangles of cable get missed out.
So does the air itself, probably 80% of any room space. More crucial than most of us ever realise, with each of us trailing around our own personal bio-plume of bacteria unique to each of us. Personal good bacteria – and personal bad bacteria – possibly harmless to ourselves, but a real problem to anyone with an underlying health condition.
Count on it, we’ll soon start seeing similar procedures everywhere – at work, in schools, in restaurants and hotels, on planes, ships and buses – regular treatment to keep them sterile.
With good reason.
The dirty secret
Because there’s a massive downside to antibiotics that we’re only now becoming aware of – one that government and big business are trying very hard to keep quiet.
They’re making us weaker and more fragile than we were – less resilient, with less stamina – not the invincibles we once were. Compare us with our grandparents back in the in the 50’s and we’re a sorry shadow of ourselves.
All from over-use of antibiotics on an industrial scale – a world consumption 65,000 tons a year and rising rapidly.
But not in medicine – in agriculture.
You see, back in the 50’s, when antibiotics were discovered, the farming industry picked them up as healthcare for livestock. So much of farming involves mud and dirt that hygiene is next to impossible.
Antibiotics gave farmers a way of compensating for the lack of it. Their animals were protected against disease and infection by regular additions to their feed. Their profits were protected too.
Very soon, they began to notice something else. That animals on antibiotics, particularly fed from young, developed faster and bulked up heavier – bigger and more impressive, ready for market earlier – AND didn’t eat so much.
That did it. Because the principle worked everywhere. Beef cattle, dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry – all of them developed faster, bigger – for even better profits.
Which is how the farming industry worldwide gets through 65,000 tons a year – in all likelihood set to double in the next ten years. Everybody wins, brilliant.
We’re the losers
Except for us.
Because the animals are on antibiotics all the time, right? Not like us, taking them for 10 days to clear an illness – regular doses in every feed, every day.
So antibiotics are in their systems – and have been for 50 years.
Which means they’re in us too. Not to the same level of course, but a regular part of our diet, every single day.
Not just in meat either. Livestock manure is highly prized as a high performance fertiliser. So there’s antibiotics in plants too – in varying quantities. In tubers such as potatoes – they’re pretty concentrated. The great British staple – mash, boiled, chips. We’re mainlining on the stuff.
You can see where this is going, can’t you? From the soil into the plants. And from the soil into the watercourses, leaching into the aquifers, into our rivers and streams, our reservoirs – ready and waiting for us at every twist of a tap.
Uh huh. For the last 50 years, every mouthful we’ve taken of pretty well anything has had antibiotics in it.
And if you think about how antibiotics work, they’re not exactly kind to us. They kill bacteria – and inside us that’s brutal. Because down in our gut there are more than 100 trillion bacteria living harmoniously – a synergistic arrangement where they do the work and we take it easy.
Bacteria digest most of our food for us. They make proteins to power us up. They even help regulate our immune system – set a good bacteria to catch a bad bacteria, a deal our bodies made with them millions of years ago, when we crawled out from under a rock.
But antibiotics kill bacteria. Not just the bad ones, but a lot of the good ones as well. Ones that we need to keep our bodies well. Suddenly clobbered because they were there. They got in the way. Killed in the fallout.
An internal atom bomb
Because that’s kind what it’s like when an antibiotic capsule dissolves in your belly. An atom bomb going off – among a population of trillions. Which is how, very often, a course of antibiotics can bring on a whole wodge of side effects – cramps, vomiting, diarrhoea, itches, rashes, wooziness, the works.
Yeah, the bad guy bacteria get killed. A lot of the good guys get killed, maimed or orphaned at the same time. They don’t perform as they used to – they’re weak, crippled, prevented from doing stuff. And it’s our bodies that suffer the consequences.
OK, penicillin – 1955. Discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming, sixty years ago.
Which means pretty well every one of us grew up with antibiotics being fed to us every day. Three meals a day, 365 days a year – every day for the thirty years we might have grown up to today – 32,850 doses of antibiotics in our system. No wonder we’re weakening!
Like allergies. Where do they come from? Rare as hen’s teeth back in the Fifties. Common as anything now. Peanuts, milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat – where will it end. And why?
A glitch in the system
Because our bacteria took a hit, that’s why.
And they’ve been taking a hit every day since before birth – because Mum’s diet had antibiotics in it too. So our immune systems are reprogrammed – hacked and rearranged, so they glitch when there’s nothing there – or kick in when they’re not supposed to.
Exactly when we need more protection because antibiotics don’t work, we’re weakened, more disease-prone and less able to recover from the same cause.
All done by antibiotics.
And here’s the kicker – the final insult.
They make us bulk up too. Particularly in early years. Just like the cows and pigs and lambs and chickens. Bulk up big and develop faster.
Except we call it getting fat. Doctors call it obesity.
Yes we can blame our diet too – however we try to finagle it. Too much carbohydrates, cut back on proteins, eat more vitamins – makes no difference.
Because regardless of what we eat, it’s sure to have antibiotics in it.
And yes, fatness is in our genes – but our genes are modified by our bacteria. And our bacteria are fighting with their hands tied behind their backs.
Scary pictures of medics like spacemen. Panic headlines about killer diseases – Ebola, MERS and Lassa fever.
How safe are we? Are we all going to die?
Scrub, swab, rinse
Out with the bucket and sponge, heavy on the bleach. Don’t let those killers get to us.
They can’t can they?
Except, all those masks and overalls…
Maybe our wipe-clean disinfecting doesn’t go far enough. Shouldn’t we do more? We’re safe enough here in the UK, but what about flu and norovirus – aren’t they contagious and airborne too?
Which brings us to how to protect ourselves.
Fumigation. Like they do for rats and cockroaches. The whole house shrouded in plastic, everybody out for a week. A bit radical though, isn’t it? Like we can’t do it every week.
So how about the alternatives?
There are a lot of good ones.
Cheapest and quickest is a disinfecting aerosol “bomb”. Disinfecting, not sterilising, but it does clobber most of any germs present – airborne and surface.
Shut the windows and doors, put the aerosol in the middle of the room, hit the button – and leave. An aerosol fog of ammonium chloride is released, filling the room like bathroom steam. Any viruses or bacteria are oxidised to nothing. Twenty minutes and you’re done.
Sort of. Because – heavier than air – the fog can’t get everywhere. Nor can it reach into crevices and corners. It does a “general ” disinfect but that’s it.
There could still be germs lurking in the shadows – and probably are. There’s nothing to get the stuff under things or behind them. But hey, it leaves a nice fresh smell – so at least you’re safer than you were.
Ultra violet, ultra effective
More serious are the “zappers”. Impressive pieces of kit that generate ultraviolet light. UV is deadly to viruses and bacteria, destroying their DNA. Just a few seconds of exposure and boom – they’re gone.
These sterilisers are not small – about the size of an office photocopier – and just as unwieldy. OK to move around in the same room, but a bit of a mission to trundle round a whole building.
Satisfyingly high-tech though.
Programmable to select room size, radiation dose and duration – with remote control so they can be operated from outside. You don’t want to be present when those UV rays start bombarding – not good for the body, or soul.
Very effective though. Done in five minutes. All surfaces, and the air too.
Which means for a room with high turnover, a dental surgery say, it’s a quick way to blitz an operating room between patients straight in off the street. Familiar territory for dentists too, they’re already used to vacating the place while they take X-rays.
There is a downside though.
Like all light, UV rays only work on line of sight. Anything the light generator cannot “see” is not exposed. Germs breeding in that location are not destroyed.
Which means the back side of objects, the sides that face away from the machine. Behind the beds, the desks, the cupboards, the chairs. Half the job.
In bigger rooms there’s a fall-off effect too. The further away from the light, the weaker the exposure. Germs can survive to infect another day.
Both problems can be reduced by re-siting the machine, and blitzing the room again. A bit of a schlep, but it gets the job done. And way more pleasant than slopping around with bleach.
Google it every which way, you’ll find it by far the most effective at destroying germs by oxidising them. Which is why so many hospitals have these sterilisers in operation – misting the place up with hydrogen peroxide vapour is a sure way to preserve patient safety.
By any standards, hydrogen peroxide is THE BUSINESS in nailing viruses and bacteria. Contact with germs kills 99.9999% of them – down to one germ in a million, hardly measurable below that – a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6.
But, like the zappers, there’s a downside.
To be effective – that means its kill strength – the hydrogen peroxide has to be a 12% solution, pretty potent and not exactly friendly to human metabolisms. The stuff is hazardous to handle.
Everything wet, wet, wet
It’s also wet, wet, wet – basically a dosed water vapour sprayed into the air, very much like low temperature steam. It spreads, does its job, and slowly sinks back down, leaving a layer of condensation all over everything.
For this reason there’s not just one machine but two – both about the size of an office photocopier. One to spread the stuff, the other to dry the place out afterwards. So everything is not just wet, it gets heated up too. A bit hairy on sensitive equipment, particularly anything electrical.
Nor does the heavier-than-air hydrogen peroxide spread everywhere, either. Like ammonium chloride, it can’t reach all the nooks and crannies. It doesn’t behind or under everything either. Like the steam in your bathroom, it just swirls around.
You might have a Log 6 kill rate, but the job’s not all done. Not in the darkened corners – risky with MRSA and other resistant microorganisms floating around.
And float they do. Most germs are so tiny, they could fall right through a piece of blotting paper. Except they’re lighter than air and too small to see, so they could float around for ever, maybe NEVER falling all the way to the floor.
So it’s swings and roundabouts. Plus you need a hefty bloke to manhandle these HP sterilisers around.
Which is where the super-whammies come in – machines that generate ionised hydrogen peroxide. (iHP).
Super technology too. Developed from the military, the first of these uses multiple spray heads mounted on tripods. Flexible tubes feed the hydrogen peroxide solution from a central spray reservoir, carefully metered by a control unit.
In the actual spray head, a whopping great arc of high voltage electricity ionises the hydrogen peroxide molecules, giving them each the same negative charge.
OK, remember your school physics? Like charges repel, right? And unlike charges attract.
So these ionised hydrogen peroxide molecules exit the spray nozzle at speed, vigorously and actively trying to get away from each other – going seriously crazy.
Result, the hydrogen peroxide disperses faster, further, wider, longer. It gets into things, behind them, under and over. And it presses deep into cracks and crevices, still trying to get away from its brothers. Ain’t no germs going to get away from that.
There’s another dimension too, quite literally.
Ionising the hydrogen peroxide changes its state from a vapour or gas – to a dynamically different plasma – the fourth state of matter.
Whammo! It’s not like vapour any more – and a whole load of other germ killers get released too. Reactive oxygen species from the hydrogen peroxide itself of course – plus hydroxyl radicals, ozone – itself a super-powerful oxidiser, and ultraviolet – the same stuff used in the zappers.
It gets better. Because all these negatively charged particles actively hunt – and actually reach out and grab – positively charged viruses and bacteria.
World War Three in microcosm – no more nasties of any kind. They are the departed.
And there’s an even better super-whammy machine too.
Because it’s a whole mission setting up all those spray-heads on tripods and a bit clunky, this jobbie is an all-in-one mobile unit. And yes, we do have a vested interest in it because it’s simply the best there is – the Hypersteriliser.
Straight off, you can see some thought’s gone into it.
No fiddly castors you can never steer, like a supermarket trolley – this thing’s got big wheels like a wheelie-bin but bigger, so you can get it up and down steps without giving yourself a hernia.
It’s all integrated too. You just dial up the dosage according to room-size and the machine calculates the rest. Press one button, leave the room and 60 seconds later the fine-mist spray begins, ionised just as it leaves the nozzle.
Which highlights another plus. Ionising makes the hydrogen peroxide more effective – as we’ve seen with the other machine, releasing other high-powered germ killers. This action allows a weaker solution – 6% instead of 12% – safer to use, and able to dissipate smaller and finer.
The silver edge
This plus performance plasma also packs another punch. It includes colloidal silver, a centuries-old germ-fighter first used by the ancient Greeks.
OK, give it twenty minutes.
As the plasma destroys germs, it loses its charge and reverts to harmless water and oxygen. It also evaporates, drying before it touches anything.
That makes it safe for computer keyboards and sensitive connections – and leaves a microscopically thin veneer of silver as an antimicrobial protection barrier on every surface. Lasting protection for up to weeks.
Is there a downside?
There always is, isn’t there?
As yet, they don’t make a rechargeable battery-powered model, so you can’t take it out into a busy transport yard to do trucks, containers, or buses and trains, without trailing a long mains lead.
The same with aircraft of course – though it’s way more effective than systems requiring several truckloads of kit for the same job.
Hiking up our hygiene
Whew! It’s been quite a haul getting here – and there’s no doubt which of these options we favour. But just remember, they’re all good – and anything that reduces the germ threshold is a step in the right direction.
The more protection we can give each other – particularly in the dense and vulnerable groups modern living seems to need – schools, hotels, offices, restaurants, cruise liners, you name it, the safer everyone can be.
Just think of it – no more norovirus, no more flu.
It won’t happen of course, because to do that, we’ve ALL got to remember to wash our hands all the time.