If it ever happens to you, it’s the end of the world.
You feel like you’re going to die – and then worry that you won’t.
Because norovirus or any of its tummy bug friends is one of the most miserable experiences you can ever have. Having a ball one minute, sick as a dog, the next.
Especially on a cruise ship.
And Southampton is home to some of the biggest cruise ships in the world.
In the just the last month, the city has seen the naming ceremony and inaugural sailing of Royal Caribbean’s hi-tech giant Anthem of the Seas – the first-ever daylight visit from Cunard’s Big Three all at the same time – Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria – and the naming by the Queen of P&O’s brand-new Britannia, before the start of her maiden voyage.
Luckily, none of these giants has yet had anyone struck down by norovirus.
But there’s a reason why cruise ships and norovirus keep hitting the news.
Pretty well all of them range round the world – and one of the most popular cruise choices is the Caribbean.
That inevitably means calling at ports in the USA – and as part of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s (CDC) Vessel Sanitation Program, ALL cruise ships have to report ANY cases of gastrointestinal sickness, even if there are none.
Because these ships are themselves celebrities, even the smallest outbreak is therefore likely to hit the headlines. Unfair really, as it gives them the reputation of always having cases – when most of the time, they sail healthy and free, year in, year out.
Make no mistake though, once an outbreak starts, it’s difficult to stop. With thousands of people sharing living space close together, physical contact is almost impossible to avoid. And that’s how norovirus spreads – not just from food, but from simple touch – like a handshake or an arm round the shoulder.
Which very much makes norovirus the price for our own lack of hygiene.
Though it’s hard to believe, many of us don’t wash our hands often enough – especially after going to the loo. And even when we do, it’s just a splash that does nothing, not the two-minute cleaning that professional medics know is the only way to be safe.
The don’t-wash-your-hands disease
Yup, norovirus is the don’t-wash-your-hands disease. (Tweet this)
Maybe a good thing, if it teaches us to take up the washing habit. Because it’s not just norovirus you can catch from not washing your hands. There’s plenty more viruses and bacteria out there, waiting to take you down. So getting away with just vomiting and diarrhoea might be the lucky part.
They know all about norovirus in Southampton – and not just from cruise ships.
Last winter, Southampton General Hospital had to close five wards because of it, and four wards the winter before. This winter it’s four wards again, with a total of forty beds in eight wards affected – a meltdown for hard-pressed medics fighting other conditions as well.
So the medics got clever, with effective measures against it.
The medics strike back
First was to recruit reinforcement nurses to cope with the inundation of cases. Next was to open a new ward of all single rooms – an effective way to isolate infectious patients with norovirus or anything more serious.
But the big problem is fighting norovirus in the first place, as all cruise lines know.
Yes, it’s the don’t-wash-your-hands disease, which is how it transmits and spreads.
It also lingers, able to survive for weeks, even months, on surfaces touched by passengers, ready to transfer to new arrivals and perpetuate the infection. It happened to Holland America Line’s Amsterdam in 2002, which could not break the cycle of repeat outbreaks on four consecutive cruises, despite rigorous cleaning.
Only taking the ship out of commission and disinfecting right down to TV remotes, bibles, poker chips and currency – as well as steam cleaning the carpets and discarding all bedding, fixed the problem.
Both ships and hospitals share the same challenge. To sanitise not just easy places reached by regular cleaning – but to be sure of nooks and crannies in difficult to reach spaces, perfect lurking places for all kinds of germs – and norovirus is only one.
Fortunately, the technology exists to handle this – rapidly being snatched up around the world – first in hospitals, but with cruise lines sure to follow quickly.
Technology to the rescue
A wheelie-bin sized Hypersteriliser mists up previously cleaned rooms and enclosed spaces with an ultra-fine mist of ionised hydrogen peroxide.
A natural sterilant in the body, hydrogen peroxide destroys all viruses and bacteria by oxidising them, ripping their cells apart – in the air, on all surfaces – all without physically touching.
Ionising the mist adds the dimension that it spreads everywhere – forcibly driven deep into cracks and crevices by charged molecules that repel each other – reaching under, behind, and pressed hard against walls and ceilings trying to escape themselves.
The same electrostatic charge attracts the molecules to viruses and bacteria – grabbing at them like a magnet. After forty minutes in the average-sized room, the place is sterile – no germs, no nothing, totally safe – to a Sterility Assurance Level of Log 6 (99.9999% of pathogens destroyed).
If they’d had a Hypersteriliser back in 2002, the Amsterdam repeat outbreaks would not have happened – unless most of the passengers determinedly didn’t wash their hands for the entire trip – when no doubt salmonella, campylobacter, and all kinds of other nasties would have broken out as well.
They haven’t got a Hypersteriliser yet at Southampton General. But you can bet staff are wishing they had something exactly like it, every moment of the day.