Bah, humbug! Food poisoning, that’s what it is. Own careless fault be blowed, it’s those dodgy merchants.
Sure, sure. You’re not wrong about food poisoning. Norovirus pretty well always comes from something we’ve eaten, so can’t fault you there.
Thing is though, how did that food get poisoned in the first place?
Yeah OK, dirt or contamination. You’re not wrong about that either. But how does the dirt get there?
Tell you what, try a quick comparison. A Tom, Dick or Harriet nine-to-fiver going through a day. And a restaurant chef or kitchen staff member going through the same day – before our Tom, Dick or Harriet sit down to eat at the same place in the evening.
The 9 to 5 day
Start with the alarm at 6.30 (yes, people do get up at that time), hit the loo, wash and polish, cup of instant to get started and gone. The commute is an hour, so it’s newspaper or tablet – depends on whether they’re strap-hanging. The coffee-bar is their kick-start, for a takeaway flat white and Danish – then up in the lift and nosh at their desk while checking out the overnight emails. The rest of the day is computer and meetings, with the odd pop downstairs for a pee-break, and a sarnie from the local greasy spoon. Same drill in the afternoon and they’re done. Meet the other half for a couple of quick ones in the Red Lion and they’re ready. Sitting down and reading menus at just after 8.00.
The “Yes chef” day
More of a shock to the system, our caterer’s day starts at 3.30. Quick shower and black instant – allowing time for fresh produce shopping at New Covent Garden from around 4.30. Ten minutes for a cappuccino and an amaretti, then straight into Smithfield before the main mob arrive, meat-buying all done and dusted before getting to the shop at 8.00. Into the day with scrub-up and prep followed by staff nosh around 10.30, ready for serious head-down for the lunch rush – a whole day of scrubbing, chopping, slicing and dicing, all the time cleaning on the run. A break at 4.00 if all goes good, setting up for the evening and the VIP guest at 8.00.
Now the question in both cases – how many times did anybody wash their hands?
And just to keep things in perspective, here’s the normal behaviour pattern:
Uh, huh. Could just be that a chef or catering staff would have better hygiene habits than that. Dead-cert probability of getting fired otherwise. The slightest risk of food poisoning is the kiss of death – end of business, end of job, end of career. Careless faults are not allowed.
Worked out yet where the norovirus is coming from? Or how the bug got onto the food that got swallowed? Who’s careless fault is that?
The guilty nobody
OK, here’s another scenario. Exactly as before, except our chef is late arriving at the restaurant – buses on diversion because of a demonstration, cops everywhere, nightmare gridlock.
No problem, New Covent Garden deliver before it happens. Nobody there, so the stuff sits on the pavement by the front door. No chance of getting nicked, nobody at work yet. All restaurants do it anyway.
Only this time the underside of the lettuce crate picks up some yuck. And it winds up on the stainless steel table in the veg prep area when all staff flood in at a rush, running late because of the traffic.
It’s just a little hiccup in the hygiene, mind – so the steel table maybe gets less of a wipedown than it should. The clock is ticking and lunch could be late. Not a careless fault, but not forgivable either.
That’s all it takes and norovirus is in, all set to zap anyone ordering a salad. Three days later, disaster strikes – and the phone rings off the hook from irate customers.
OK yeah, it happens. And the careless fault is nobody’s. Or is it?
One finger pointing, three fingers pointing back
But it could just as easily happen the other way – when Tom, Dick or Harriet paw over the menu with their unwashed hands. Norovirus isn’t choosy, anyone taking chances with basic hygiene is fair target.
So who’s careless fault is it? ALL of us for not being watchful. Clean hands are so easy to achieve, yet most of the time we never even think about them.
Worth trying to remember though. Anything to avoid those end-of-the-world cramps and the deadly upchucks. Not to mention the acid runs that dissolve your guts out.
You never take chances, always wash your hands thoroughly, make sure everything you touch is spic and span.
So if ever the misery of norovirus hits, you know it isn’t you.
Trouble is though, it’s not necessarily you that’s careless.
Other people can make you sick too. THEIR carelessness, not yours.
For instance, you always wash your hands – keep them clean at all times.
The things you touch
But you handle money, don’t you?
All of us do. You need coins for pay-and-display parking, the newsagent only accepts cash, and the till in the coffee shop doesn’t work on contactless.
And money NEVER GETS WASHED, does it?
Despite that, 80 PER CENT of people never wash their hands after handling it. And the average £1 coin has more germs on it than a toilet seat.
There are plenty of other high-touch things that never get washed too. Still thinking cash, how about the keypad of your nearest ATM? About the only time it might get cleaned is if it rains. Which is why, like the money you take out of it, it too is covered in germs like a toilet seat.
OK, now walk yourself through the average day. How many high-touch areas do you touch without even thinking, and maybe forget about your hands?
Sure, you’re disciplined about always before food and after the loo. But do you realise how many times we touch our faces in between? Believe it or not, two or three thousand times a day is about average.
Some things are never washed
Uh huh. So germs might get in, no matter how meticulous your are. Because of all the things you touch that you don’t realise never get cleaned.
Like any keypad. On your phone, on your computer, the cashpoint in any shop, lift buttons, security locks, you name it. And even if somebody did come along with a damp rag, the thing would probably stop working because water got in.
Then there’s supermarket trolleys. Never cleaned from one day to the next , the problem is such an issue that stores in the US have started deliberately offering sanitising wipes – or even putting trolleys through a machine that mists them with germ-killing peroxide.
Supermarket conveyers are another high-touch, out-of-mind source of germs we take for granted. So are the actual shelves of produce themselves. Watch next time you’re shopping, and see how people feel fruit and vegetables for ripeness and freshness. You’ve washed your hands, but have they?
And it’s other people’s collective carelessness that could put you in danger, no matter how careful you are. On top of which, food poisoning nasties like norovirus take three or four days to assert themselves, so you have no idea what you might have touched or swallowed in that time.
It might even be from “secondary touching”. You pack your shopping into bags and take them out to the car. Getting your key is a fumble, so you put the bags on the ground to fish it out. Then you put your bags in the boot.
Uh huh, again. What might now be on the underside of those bags? Or lurking on the floor of the boot, transferred from the last time you did it? And when you unpack those bags on your kitchen countertop, do you always remember to wipe down with disinfectant as you do it?
Only this week a TV programme revealed how easy it is for fresh vegetables covered in germs to find their way into your fridge, simply by being packed loose in home delivery crates. And again, you’re meticulous about washing your hands, but who else is?
All of which means you have to assume that everything is a germ hazard before you even touch it. But you can’t clean everything every moment of the day. You have a life – and who can afford to sacrifice that amount of time?
Ah, but what you can do is eliminate germs on ALL surfaces and throughout the air before anyone else gets to them. After the day is over and people are gone, a nifty machine called a Hypersteriliser can mist up your workplace with ionised hydrogen peroxide, oxidising all bacteria and viruses down to zero.
Now if we can just persuade supermarkets, shops, restaurants, schools and other public places to do the same thing – at least all of us will be safe from high-touch surfaces, even if we are lax with washing our own hands.
(Sigh!) It’ll take a while though, before we get to that stage.
In the meantime, best to be as careful as we can and on our guard. It’s not just norovirus we have to look out for, there’s lethal nasties out there as well.
Already there are signs that the Ebola crisis could be ready to flare up again. Or some other world epidemic we’re nowhere near ready for.
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.
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.
Frightening prospect, germ war. And it’s nearer than we think.
Right at our fingertips. Which puts us on the edge of suicide.
Well we wouldn’t step in front of a bus, would we? Or a train. Or step into an open lift-shaft.
But that’s the chance we’re taking every time we forget to wash our hands.
To clean away the germs lurking there, just waiting to find ways to invade our body.
Not always our fault of course – unless we deliberately avoid it.
We use our hands for everything – touching, holding, carrying, smoothing, squeezing, grabbing, pushing, pulling – our physical contact with the world. And every single action involves germs – on every surface around us, in the air, already on our own skin.
Most of these germs are harmless. We have our own germs to protect us – bacteria outside and inside our bodies that keep harmful invaders away by crowding them out. Our own personal germ war.
A single germ cell can’t do very much. But ganged up with others they can invade very quickly. It only takes 10 cells of norovirus to trigger a miserable stomach upset – and 10 of these tiny microscopic cells are easily scraped together by our fingers moving over something.
Next thing we touch our face and a seriously unpleasant experience becomes inevitable.
Which means washing our hands – particularly before touching our face – is our most effective way of avoiding suicide. A germ war we can win.
We look both ways before crossing the road – soap and water does the same thing. We avoid being hit by a bus – and we avoid being hit by typhoid, both of them likely to be terminal experiences.
Yeah sure, we can take a chance – and cross the road anyway. But that’s the thing about suicide, you only have to do it once.
And it’s a dangerous world out there to take chances.
You may have read recently that modern modern medicine is on the edge of collapse because our wonder-drug life-saving antibiotics are beginning not to work any more. Superbug bacteria are developing that are totally resistant, our miracle medicines do nothing.
Put that together with the rise of unexpected allergies and other disorders – and suddenly the road we’re trying to cross isn’t a quiet suburban street any more – it’s a high-speed 8-lane motorway.
Keep putting off washing your hands – and sooner or later you WILL get hit.
You might be lucky, a minor blow like norovirus or a common cold. Or you might be flattened by a pantechnicon – a small cut at first, that suddenly becomes the hulking eighteen-wheeler of sepsis – full on shut-down of the body as the immune system attacks itself, and the only way out is feet first.
So practice your kerb drill. Always wash your hands before eating food – and after going to the loo. Better still, never touch your face unless you know your hands are clean.
Just because you can’t see germs doesn’t mean they’re no there. They certainly are – and a way more unpleasant at doing yourself in than jumping into the Thames. They take time, they hurt, they destroy the person that you are – until you pass away, a sorry shadow of suffering and misery.
So yeah, it’s a germ war. And yeah, it’s going on all the time.
Sure you can get unlucky. But when it’s so easy to be a smiling survivor, why put yourself at risk? Why wait for cholera, TB or pneumonia to come busting in with a gun to your head – and your whole world goes for a loop?
Rediscover hygiene, wash your hands thoroughly, keep yourself clean – and live to a ripe old age.
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.
The same bunch of idiots also shut all the care homes – so the old folks had no place to go.
Oh yeah, and because they know more about medicine than anyone else in the universe, they instituted targets and 5 minute consultation slots, so most diagnoses are only thumb-suck and people go home worse than they started.
Welcome to our country, we have no facilities to support you, so you can live in a paper bag. What do you mean, your whole family is sick?
Nice one, hey? But they’re who we voted for and that’s the service we pay taxes on. We’ve lucked it on ourselves.
Our own fault
Actually, we really have. Because aside from these Westminster-driven overcrowding and logistical shortfalls, most NHS issues are driven by two things – dirt and antibiotics damage.
The dirt is all of us, because our personal hygiene is so appalling. That’s the only word for it. The only reason we’re not permanently sick is the compensating level of sanitation organised around us. Safe water to drink, effective sewage, clean streets, regular rubbish removal. Take them away and we’d all be cholera cases.
Because pretty well most of us are dirty all the time – particularly our hands, which touch everything – the major source of infection transfer. Don’t believe it? The view in the mirror is not nice.
Take out accidents, because they can happen to anyone – and we’re left with a high proportion of people suffering ailments and illnesses brought on by their own lack of hygiene. In workplaces alone less than half of us have accidents, so the rest comes down to dirt.
Dirt, unclean hands and bodies, unchecked infection, inevitable illness.
If we washed our hands regularly – certainly before food and after the loo every time, we’d take more than 50% of cases away from GPs – more than 50% of cases away from A&E.
Amazing, huh? Half the NHS budget in an instant. Soap and water beats billions of pounds of salaries and investment.
And for the real dirt
Which leaves antibiotics damage.
Not so easy, this one.
We think of antibiotics as amazing rescue medicines – and yes they are, in an emergency.
Trouble is, they work by killing bacteria – which is fine as long as they only kill the “bad guy” bacteria making us ill. Unfortunately, they kill a lot wider than that – which destroys or damages a lot of the vitally necessary “good guy” bacteria we each of us have living in our own gut – to handle digestion, manage our immune systems, and a thousand other essential functions.
And the bad news is, we’re exposed to antibiotics all the time – not from medicine, but from food. They’re the farmer’s miracle growth promoter – shovelled into feedstuffs for every meal, accelerating development of livestock and plant crops four and five times bigger and faster.
Plus all the other glitches to our immune systems. Like allergies we never used to have – asthma, rhinitis, food intolerance, dermatitis, eczema, hay fever, dust, mould, nuts, coeliac disease – the list is endless.
And all the while, our immune systems become less and less resilient, more prone to the slightest infection. More at risk from the billions and billions of viruses and bacteria that surround us every second of every day. Microscopic organisms, invisible but deadly, nano-dirt in the air and on every surface around us.
Plenty more cases to send to A&E. Long-term illnesses with slow debilitation. At the rate we’re going, ALL of us could wind up in hospital – and the NHS would sink without trace.
How we’ll survive
OK, so we can wash our hands, that’s Defence One.
Defence Two is to sterilise our surroundings, keeping them safe as our resistance diminishes. Not the great outdoors of course, that’s impossible. But we can protect our enclosed living spaces, homes, schools, workplaces, hotels, restaurants, even planes and trains and ships.
All it takes is a regular mist-up of safe and eco-friendly ionised hydrogen peroxide. A dry spray that reaches deep into cracks and crevices, behind and under objects, hard up against walls and ceilings, and of course across every inch of flat surface. Forty minutes and all viruses and bacteria are destroyed. No germs, anywhere.
Waiting for Westminster – again
Now it’s up to the politicos to get antibiotics out of our food chain – to get them under control with proper protective legislation, to stop the health-sapping drift to obesity that all of us have, and will continue to have, until the drugs are out of our diet.
And that’s really the dirt. Because so many of us are already sick or sickening needlessly from Westminster’s negligence. Take away the health threat and the NHS stands a fighting chance of being the service it ought to be.
Oh yeah, as long as we don’t forget to wash our hands all the time as well – the other main cause of illnesses everywhere. It’s a personal responsibility none of us can step away from.
Brilliant piece of kit, Dyson’s Airblade hand dryer. First time you see it, you think wow amazing. The same when you use it.
Which kinda has us jumping up and down when we see a bunch of technology wonks have published research to say it spreads germs 1,300 more than paper towels.
A good idea world-wide
For starters, if it was that rotten, the giant Mitsubishi Electric Corporation wouldn’t have rushed out their own high speed Jet Towel, would they? A good idea is a good idea – and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And don’t knock it because it’s Japanese, they turn good ideas into the best in the world.
But right now it’s Dyson that’s taking the flak – our own world-leading brilliant technology company. And frankly in our view, these Westminster University researchers claiming the AIrBlade spreads germs aren’t doing any of us a favour.
First off, the machine is a hand DRYER, right? The whole premise of its design is that hands might be wet, but they have already been cleaned. THERE ARE NO GERMS TO BE BLOWN OFF.
So if the Westminster Uni people found the thing spread germs, their hands must have pretty dodgy in the first place to have spread so many.
Yeah, well. Why are we not surprised? If they were basing their research on the typical behaviour of real people – which they should have – their hands were laden with all kinds of gunk. Here’s why.
Uh huh. The germs got spread because the hands weren’t clean.
Sure, lots of tiny drops of water would have spread around the place. The thing is basically a fan, for goodness sake – that’s what fans do. And Dyson’s jobbie blasts air at 430 mph – you don’t send a boy to do a man’s job.
Drops of CLEAN water – the hands were supposed to be properly washed first, remember? And Dyson’s dryer only blasts clean air because it’s sucked in through a HEPA filter before it gets to your hands anyway.
Which means microorganisms down to only 3 microns across don’t come anywhere near you – one heck of a lot better than paper towels.
Paper towels anyway are really compensating for poor hygiene in a non-touchless environment.
If a washroom has Dysons installed, it probably has no-touch infra red taps too – and soap dispensers. The only contact is hand-to-hand scrubbing and rinsing – which done properly should ensure all the germs go down the plughole.
Most people are incredibly wasteful of paper towels anyway.
As Joe Smith points out in his superb hand washing video, in America 13 billion pounds of paper towels (5,9 million tonnes) are used every year, just to dry hands. 571,231,000 pounds of that (259,106 tonnes) is wasted by people fumbling around, not thinking what they’re doing.
Why all this hoo-hah about washing hands?
Because in our Twenty-First Century always-on-the-go, digital world, clean hands are often all that’s between us and coming down with any number of bugs like norovirus, escherichia coli, salmonella, clostridium difficile, campylobacter, MRSA, or simply colds and flu.
Finger food, fast infection
Look no further than our favourite choice of food. Burgers, chicken drumsticks, hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches, wraps, tamales, tortillas – all eaten with fingers. Now ask yourself honestly, when was the last time you washed your hands before you ate? Not really on the radar when you’re out and about, is it?
OK, so now wash your hands – the way you’re supposed to, with enough time to sing Happy Birthday to yourself twice. And now dry them off with the Dyson. No worries, right?
Hey, hey, hey! 430 mph of clean air. Now you’re really cooking with gas!