• Fight winter bugs with hygiene

    Keep the winter bugs away! Simple, practical tips.

    It is that time of year when many people find themselves with colds, flu or norovirus – those typical winter bugs. But getting ill is not a foregone conclusion, and there are some things we can do to protect ourselves against illness. Many of my tips are very cheap, if not free, and by taking a bit of responsibility for our health, we can help to reduce the risk of illness. I think it is worth the effort!Read more

  • Zambia: hygiene messages are the same as here

    Hygiene Messages in Zambia

    Shitima House SchoolI have just returned from Zambia where I visited a school and orphanage, Shitima House. 446 Children attend the school, and those who have no home to go to stay as residents. Others in my party carried out brilliant work with the children, from teaching 12th Graders vital exam techniques to helping to set up a jewellery co-operative business for school leavers to sustain themselves when they have finished their education.Handwashing class

    For my part, I spoke to all 446 children, their teachers, cooks, carers and admin staff and demonstrated the importance of some basic hygiene rules, mainly focusing on hand washing.

    The school is lucky that it has a plentiful water supply which is piped to the ablution block, kitchen and dormitories. However, there is no hot water and soap was in short supply.

    Thanks to a generous donation from Unilever, I was able to give everyone at the school a bar of Lifebuoy soap.Soap for children

    I used some of Unilever’s “School of 5” materials which are accredited by the RSPH. Whilst I could not follow the full programme due to time constraints, I am hopeful that I have left the teachers with the skills to continue reinforcing the hygiene messages we discussed in classes.

    School of 5The children learned about the 5 most important times to wash their hands.

    I thought it was important to tell them some of our dreadful statistics about lack of hand washing in the UK – the food handlers who fail, and the 50% of office staff who don’t wash their hands after visiting the toilet – despite the fact that we have such easy access to hot water, soap and towels. They were shocked!

    In addition to hand washing, I talked about brushing teeth, and took a toothbrush for everyone.

    The pupils promised to follow the “School of 5” and their teachers will remind them every day. However, just to be on the safe side, I thought I would put some stickers up in the toilets to keep the message fresh -a bit big brother, (or sister) but maybe it will work!Hand wash

    As I had noticed that there was no soap around in the toilet blocks, I decided to take a trip to the local hardware shop and bought soap dispenser to put on the walls – anything left loose disappears, so the bars of soap were personal possessions for the children, and could not be left on the basins unattended. With the help of Radek, who works at the school, three boys learned how to use a drill and rawl plugs and we put up the dispensers, and didn’t forget the kitchen! Putting up dispensers

    The next challenge is to ensure that there is enough liquid soap to keep the dispensers stocked up. That takes money, and Zamcog needs sponsorship and regular donations – you can be a friend of Shitima House for £10 per month or sponsor a child for £500 per year. alternatively, giving to the fund-raising account will send the money directly to Zamcog to keep the school running.

    Finally on the last day we had the opportunity to meet guardians, parents or grandparents of those children who had someone to look after them at home. See my next blog for what we told them!

    Class with LA


  • Hand Washing – a Tale of Two Cities and Two Worlds

    Hotel luxury bathroom with soap and two wash basinsIn January 2012 I had the disturbing experience of staying in a world class luxury hotel in Cape Town and then visiting a township less than 10 miles away where the occupants lived in abject poverty.

    In my hotel room I had two wash basins, a separate shower, an enormous bath and a huge collection of towels, shampoo bottles and bars of soap, all of which were replaced as soon as I had used them once.

    Diarrhoea causes around 1.5 million children to die each year (UNICEF / WHO, 2009) and one of the most cost-effective interventions is hand washing with soap. In the local township, a project to improve hygiene and hand washing had been undertaken by Dettol which had shown through interventions of educational programmes, cascade training and provision of soap and cleaning materials, that there had been a significant decrease in morbidity. There are plenty of other studies giving the same evidence of the benefits of hand washing.

    Hand Washing Station in South African Township

    In the townships where there was no running water, the women in the programme had rigged up an ingenious washing station with a pair of old tights to hold the soap and an old 2L fizzy drinks container with water and a tube coming out of the top. Squeeze the bottle, water comes out, use the soap and squeeze again for more water and a final rinse. So hygienic and simple – a no-touch system after the washing process and air dry in the hot sun.

    One aspect of changing behaviour is that people will undertake some form of cost-benefit analysis – what is in it for them? do the benefits outweigh the cost? One thing that struck me was how much trouble it was to wash your hands when there is no running water or soap, and yet in countries where these things are in abundance, a high percentage of the population fails to wash their hands after using the toilet.

    In the townships, a main driver for the women to implement change of behaviour for themselves and their families was not just the threat of disease, it was the fact that to get to a hospital with a sick child could involve a 4 hour walk, where rape was a likely consequence on the way; even when they arrived, if the hospital had seen its quota of patients that day, then they faced a return trip with equal perils and would need to repeat the whole thing the next day.

    We live in a culture in the developed world where we have become complacent – we think we are invincible – not likely to get ill, or if we do we have confidence in the antibiotics that for so long have saved us from severe illness or death from infectious diseases. But things are changing -more and more antibiotic resistant organisms are emerging, not only in hospitals but throughout the community and at the same time fewer new antibiotics are being created. Basic hygiene skills will be needed even more than ever.

    At the end of June I am visiting an Aids Orphanage in Kabwe, two hours drive from Lusaka in Zambia where I am running a hand washing programme for all the children and will talk about the importance of hand washing and to provide them with some soap to start them off. We will also be making hand washing stations using recycled materials for those who live in the nearby shanty town to take back home with a bar of soap. Maybe it’s a shot in the dark but perhaps one or two people may take some notice.

    I am hoping to raise £2000 for the school before I go – this will pay for four children to be housed and educated for a year – can you spend a penny (or 20,000)? I am paying for all my expenses so the money goes directly to the school – you are not funding a mid-life crisis trip!

    Click here to sponsor:

    To find out more about the Orphanage and Zamcog click here and watch the video.


  • Off your (supermarket) trolley!

    Shopping-trolleyHave you ever wondered what might be lurking on your supermarket trolley? We think of food shops as nice clean places, but in fact a study in the US(1) showed that there may be unwelcome micro-organisms on the handle of the trolley.
    Indeed, studies suggested that there may be an association between children sitting in supermarket trolleys when raw meat is being purchased and being ill with Campylobacter or Salmonella. (2) (3)
    How could that happen, you may ask? Well, next time you go to a supermarket, have a look what fellow shoppers are doing whilst they are shopping – and maybe even look at your habits. If you are picking up bacteria such as Campylobacter and E. coli on your hands when shopping, do you really want to transfer those germs to your mouth or your child’s mouth?
    That is effectively what you are doing if you eat whilst shopping, or feed your children when they are sitting in the front of the trolley (and their hands will be on the handle as well). Given that bugs like Campylobacter are infectious in very small numbers, then simply transferring them from the handles of the trolley to your mouth (maybe via a packet of crisps) would be enough to cause illness. Add to the mix respiratory diseases such as flu and colds, and norovirus, and there are quite a few reasons to take care with hygiene.

    Think about some of the routes of transmission:

    • Hands to trolley
    • Trolley to hands
    • Hands to face, mouth, eyes
    • Hands to ready-to-eat food to mouth
    • Hands to ready-to-eat food in trolley to mouth
    • Hands to child
    • Hands to other surfaces (car, home, work surfaces, ready to eat food)

    Supermarket Sweepstake

    • So what’s it like in reality?
    • You touch a trolley handle with clean hands, you pick up flu virus, rub your eyes and infect yourself
    • You pick up bacteria such as Campylobacter from the packaging of raw foods, or E. coli from raw veg (eg putting potatoes in a bag) and then you touch grapes with dirty hands, transfer the pathogens and then feed them to your child.
    • You pick up bacteria from raw meat or vegetables on your hands and transfer them to the trolley handle which is touched by others or your child sitting in the trolley (who then feeds herself crisps)
    • You put raw meat and vegetables in a bag for life, transferring bacteria to the bag, which may be used subsequently for ready-to-eat food
    • Your raw meat and vegetables may contaminate ready-to-eat foods in the bag or trolley

    So what are top tips for Supermarket hygiene?

    • It would be great if, as in some parts of the USA supermarkets provide wipes for trolleys
    • If they don’t then it may be worth using your own anti-bacterial wipes
    • Try not to eat when shopping, and don’t feed your children if at all possible, as you could be exposing them to infection
    • Think that your hands could be carriers of disease, and before you rub your eyes, or eat, make sure you wash them!
    • Keep a separate “raw meat and veg” bag or use a disposable bag, and don’t put ready-to-eat foods next to these dirtier foods
    • When you get home, wash your hands and those of your child.

    Supermarkets, like any public place, will be contaminated with bacteria and viruses from other people. However, there are also raw foods available in the supermarket which may cause additional contamination. Make sure that these organisms don’t get in your body by following some fairly simple rules.


    1. Gerba and Maxwell Food Protection Trends, Vol. 32, No. 12, Pages –
    Copyright© 2012, International Association for Food Protection6200 Aurora Ave., Suite 200W, Des Moines, IA50322-2864

    2. Fulterton, K. E., L. A. Ingram, T. F. Jones, B. J. Anderson, P. V. McCarthy, S. Hurd, B. Shiferaw, D. Vugia, N. Haubert, S. Wedel, and F. J. Angulo. 2007. Sporadic Campylo-bacter infection in infants: a pop¬ulation-based surveillance case-control study. Pediatr. Infect. Dis. J. 26:19–24.

    3. Jones, T. F., L. A. Ingram, K. E. Fulterton, R. Marcus, B. J. Anderson, P. V. McCarth, D. Vugia, B. Shiferaw, N. Haubert, S. Wedel, and F. J. Angulo. 2006. A case control study of the epidemiology of sporadic Salmo¬nella infection in infants. Pediatrics 118:2380–2387.