Category Archives: Health

RICE: a new-to-me medical acronym

I can’t emphasise enough that this is about a small medical experience of my own – it’s not medical advice.  That said, please keep reading …

I needed to pop over to my GP’s last week, and luckily I was able to squeeze in to their “clinic” – which seemed to mean “you don’t get an appointment, just turn up at midday and we’ll see you when we can”.  Fair enough – I was seen at about 12.20, in and out in a few minutes.


I’d been chopping back brambles during the previous weekend – which is most definitely a prep, clearing a garden so that you can plant edibles – and at the end of the day, noticed a bright red area.  A bite?  A bramble puncture?  Who knows, I’d have to have a time machine to find out.  But 24 hours later, there was a big problem, a huge swelling, that increased the size of my ankle by maybe 40% . Not great, not great at all.

Since it was still there two and a half days later, I went to the doc.  After looking at the NHS website, I was concerned there might be an infection, especially an infection of the cellulitis variety, which can be horrendous.  But although it was bright red, it wasn’t sore and it wasn’t tender, so I was hopeful it was something easily sorted.

And it was! I was given the acronym RICE: rest, ice, compress, elevate.

REST: let your body heal a bit.  Not so relevant to me this time, but important at other times. Apparently, it’s best to take 1 or 2 days rest, if indicated by a doctor.

ICE: to take down the swelling, and help the area heal faster.  Don’t put the ice directly on the skin, wrap it in a towel or just use the classic bag of frozen peas, wrapped in a tea towel.

COMPRESS: to help limit the swelling to the injured area, and to give support.  It’s crucial not to compress too much, if you cut off the blood supply to the affected area, you could then give yourself a life-changing, totally avoidable injury.

ELEVATE: elevating to ease the pressure on the wound, and to help gravity with the healing.

More detail on all of this is available on this website, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is the only one I could find, oddly.  There’s a WebMD page too.

Because of the particulars of my little wound, I was also advised to use an antihistamine, and an antiseptic cream such as Savlon. Job done.

It did start me thinking about wounds like this in relation to prepping, however.  If it had been an infection, that would have depended upon antibiotics to cure it – and antibiotic useage is in deep trouble right now, as all the drugs we have are becoming less effective, and resistance has recently been discovered even to the antibiotic of last resort, as described in this BBC report from the end of last year.  And everyday gardening is mentioned in that report, incidentally.

Once I’ve been wearing my heavy duty gardening gloves, I’ve become pretty cavalier about protection whilst gardening: that’s going to change.  Ankles are vulnerable too, even in sturdy sandals like mine, there are plenty of openings that leave you vulnerable to problems.  I really don’t fancy becoming a statistic in the Antibiotics Apocalypse, even though that phrase is only a marketing headline, it does sum up what could well be a severe problem in the future.

Lightning Strikes!

Lightning strikes image by NASA
Courtesy of NASA

There are a huge number of lightning strikes every year, and a surprising number of them kill people. Exact numbers, however, are hard to come by – so, using data on the USA collected by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), it can be confirmed that over 400 people are struck by lightning every year in the USA, and that between 55 and 60 of them are killed. Of the rest, many of them suffer permanent neurological damage. Let me repeat that – permanent.

It can be a devastating problem. Just last month, in June 2016, almost 100 people were killed in India – in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand and Madhya Pradesh. These figures represent catastrophe for the communities and families involved, especially as most of the casualties are labourers with only one income in the family.

Weather is more extreme in the USA and in India than it is in the UK – but we’re catching up quite a bit, thanks to climate change. Just this week, there was a warning for a majority of the UK for “Thunderstorms/Flash Flooding/Large Hail/Tornadoes”. I was surprised to see that list presented in such a matter of fact way, and it’s only because there’s so much going on right now – Nice, Turkey, Brexit after effects including a new Prime Minister – that it didn’t make headlines.

There can be very little notice of lightning strikes, because they can occur so far away from the centre of the storm – thats why it’s important to err on the side of caution, although that can seem completely impractical. What if there’s a storm, with distant thunder, when you’re due to leave the house for the day, dropping the kids off at school before getting to the train station to go to work?

I can tell you what best practice is, around lightning strikes. I can tell you that if I finish seeing a client and there’s a storm on, I suggest that we wait it out before either of us leaves. But I’m self employed – now that I know so much more about lightning, I’m not sure what I’d do if I was still an employee. Please leave feedback below, if you can, or contact me privately if it feels too identifiable.

The installation of lightning conductors and protectors is outside the scope of this article (though I sense another article on it’s way about that) but there are many, very simple things that we can all do to reduce the likelihood of lightning damage.


Switch appliances off AND unplug them. When there’s a surge in electrical supply because of a lightning strike, it has to go somewhere. Surge protecting extension leads will probably protect from comparatively small surges, like the ones that happen when electricity comes back on after a short power cut.

Storms can happen fast: make sure that you can get to your wallplugs quickly, that you don’t have to manoeuvre heavy furniture out of the way. Or that you have one of those protective extension leads – you can unplug your appliances really fast, and then, if you want, you can still grapple with the furniture to try to ensure that the extension lead isn’t fried.

There are UPS as well as extension leads: Uninterruptible Power Supply products ensure that the computer can be shut down safely, rather than an emergency shutdown. At the level of investment that most individuals can afford, that’s the best there is. Power down, in good order and unplug.

Don’t use a landline phone when you can hear thunder and especially not when you can see lightning. If the phone line itself is struck, even a couple of miles from where you are, you might quite easily be thrown across the room. Cordless phones, and mobile phones, are said to be unaffected – but isn’t a cordless phone plugged in to your landline is still liable to get affected by a strike on the phone line? I wouldn’t risk it, it’s a very low probability event, but a very high impact one.

Don’t use water, or touch metal or electrical objects. This is the time for reading a book, doing a few stretches, having a singsong or writing a letter. Dusting the skirting boards, even!

If you hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck by lightning – take precautions as above as quickly as possible. Lightning can strike up to 10 miles away from the rainfall or thunderstorm cloud.


If you’re outdoors, get indoors as soon and as safely as you can. Remember that all thunderstorms produce some lightning, and if you can hear the thunder, you’re in danger. And there’s no safe place outdoors in a thunderstorm.

Move away from tall things (trees, power lines) and metal things too (parasols, bicycles) since they all attract lightning.

If you’re surrounded by trees, take shelter under the shorter trees.

However – don’t be the tallest object in the area, so avoid open areas as well.

Get to a low-lying area if you can, because of lightning striking the tallest objects around, but remember that flash flooding is increasingly common these days, don’t put yourself at risk of that either. All of this really emphasises my first point – there’s no safe place outdoors in a thunderstorm.
If you feel your hair stand on end and feel tingly, that means that lightning is about to strike, so crouch down, get on the balls of your feet and bend forward putting hands on your knees. The scientific basis for this is to make yourself as small as possible, to make yourself as small a target as possible, and to ensure that if you are unlucky enough to be struck anyway, the current will pass through your extremities, not your torso (i.e. not your heart and lungs).

Don’t lie flat, that will make you a bigger target, and put more of you in touch with the wet earth. Water is a great conductor.

Speaking of which … if you’re swimming, get out of the water, fast. If you’re in a boat of any sort, the same applies. Get out of the water, and get away from it.

If you’re with a group of people, spread out – statistically, this actually increases the chances of someone getting hit, but it also increases the chances that not all of you will be hit, so that any victims will have help on hand.

Lightning can strike several people at once, especially grouped together, and a mass casualty situation caused by lightning is triaged in a different way from others: if a strike victim is breathing on their own, they’ll probably continue to breathe, so most attention is paid to the people who aren’t breathing.

The best-practice recommendation is to stay inside a safe building or vehicle for 30 minutes after you hear the last thunder clap. That’s a long time, I know – but how often are thunderstorms in your area, even nowadays?


Keep the windows closed, that will help them conduct the electrical charge through to the ground and away from you. And the window area itself may be struck: if the window is open, that means that you will be struck, directly.

A car only provides protection if you are inside it (and it has a hard top). But just as with the surge protectors above, there’s still a chance. Be careful.

Don’t touch any metal part of the car, or the car radio.


Lightning victims don’t carry an electrical charge – they’re safe to touch, but they need medical attention urgently. Phone 999, or the medical emergency number of your own country if you’re not in the UK.

Deaths caused by lightning strikes are usually due to cardiac arrest – learn how to give emergency resuscitation. This page has the well known Vinnie Jones resus video, hands only CPR is a lifesaver.

Watch for two wounds: an entrance and an exit burn. Don’t put anything on them, just cover them with the cleanest, most sterile material you have available at the time.

If possible, move the victim to a safer place – lightning really can strike the same place twice, unfortunately.

Finally, this is a great view of where lightning is striking right now.

Dangers on the beach

Real life issues came calling on me in late spring and early summer, some good (weddings!) and some bad (illness and a few unnameable emergencies). So there was no blogging, but I was still taking pictures, and bearing in mind my determination to post a series about flooding, I thought I’d put up these pictures, taken during the storm that killed my garden fence.

Public Sea Safety Information
Public Sea Safety Information
Be Happy And Safe
Be Happy And Safe

The media love stories about sharks in British waters (though here’s a more realistic piece from the Beeb last year) but my pictures to the left show the real dangers: people getting swept off their feet by a large wave and not being able to get back in control, swimmers not realising how dangerous the water temperature and currents can be, people jumping off the piers and either hitting their heads or just not having the strength to swim back to shore. Even on sunny days. And sadly, people jumping in to try to save their dogs: usually, the dogs manage to swim back, and the people drown.

All of that is made worse by drunkenness – Brighton is one of the ultimate party towns, of course – and ignorance of the local conditions in particular, and the power of the sea in general. Some of those who die are children, whose parents/guardians let them walk right at the water’s edge during a storm, because they genuinely don’t understand how unpredictable the sea can be. And at Brighton, the shape of the beach causes huge problems, the shingle shelves very steeply in a few places: you can see it in the picture in this second BBC report.

Brighton and Hove Council have got a good section on their website about sea safety, including videos and video transcripts and a link to RNLI information. The text includes the weaver fish, which I’d heard of, but didn’t know how to treat. I do now!

Such avoidable deaths … please make sure you and yours are safe near the water, wherever you are, and that you know about any local hazards.


Dental Care, Part Two

I didn’t expect to need to write a second post about dental care in relation to prepping, but there’s a lot more information available than I managed to fit into the first post.

Right now we have the NHS picking up the basics of dental care, as well as millions of people who pay for private dental care. But what if something really bad happened?  It could be your own unemployment when you can no longer afford even NHS payments, financial crisis worse than 2008, the La Palma earthquake? Even if the current financial situation gets worse for the NHS, many of us could be in trouble. I’ve edited this for flippancy, because it’s very real – in these situations, we might be well and truly stuck if we couldn’t take care of ourselves.

1. Acids in our food

One of the most important things to take on board is about acids in our food. Acids in food and drink can attack teeth in the same way as dental plaque attacks them. Teeth can repair themselves if given time (45 minutes or so after eating), so the advice is not to have sugary substances too often during your day, and not to snack. If you snack, you’ll be spending longer each day in that “recovery” time, when the acids and sugars are in plentiful supply in your mouth, and potentially damaging your teeth.

In addition, we shouldn’t brush our teeth immediately after eating, as that can cause extra damage in itself: the normal acids and sugars from eating are all strongly present in our mouths, and if you brush your teeth at this time, you’re actually helping them to attack your tooth enamel.

If you don’t have a toothbrush, or are in a situation where you can’t brush your teeth, chewing sugar free gum is recommended – this is because it increases the flow of that healthy saliva to fight the plaque-forming acids.

2. Clove Oil

Clove oil is often applied directly to gums, and to aching teeth, for pain relief. and I have some myself, for exactly this reason. However, there are three things to bear in mind, according to the USA site of WebMD, even though medical research bears out the pain relief properties:

– it contains a substance called eugenol, which seems to slow blood clotting.

– it may not be as effective as originally thought at relieving pain (although I’d have thought that something is better than nothing).

– it is almost certainly unsafe for children, with problems including seizures and liver damage.

– heavy adult use may give rise to damage to the gums, tooth pulp, skin and mucous membranes.

In other words, it’s not a miracle application – use sensibly.

3. Losing a tooth

A programme on BBC1 recently about teeth (The Truth About Teeth, broadcast in July of this year) mentioned something very interesting about what to do if you accidentally knock out a tooth (an adult tooth, that is).


– hold it while you take it to your dentist

– scrub it

– put it in ice or water, the cells will explode and die.

– leave it in your pocket


– pick it up by the tip that you normally see, so you don’t damage the sensitive root cells.

– lick it, to get off any dirt.

– stick it back in the gum, in exactly the place it came from. Minutes count.

– get to a dentist, as quickly as possible.

if you can’t bear to put it back in your mouth, put it in milk – that will keep it alive for up to six hours, apparently.

4. Salty Gargle

Gargling salty warm water won’t prevent a toothache, and it won’t prevent a cavity from growing, but it most certainly will work to counter any infection you have, until you can get to a dentist (or a doctor, if the problem isn’t only with your teeth). WebMD US and UK, and my very own dentist, all recommend it, and there’s research to prove it, published here by The US National Library of Medicine.

5. Some links

Here’s one of the biggest and best resources, which I didn’t mention in Part One:   Where there is no dentist

This is an astonishing resource – available to all for free. I’ve linked to the page requested on Hesperian’s website, as this is where they also publish updates. I can’t say enough good things about Hesperian, and I urge everyone who reads this to use that link and download for free, or buy print copies of any of the books that seem remotely relevant to you. It’s mostly meant for people in developing countries – but there are plenty of people in the developed world who need more information about helping themselves too.

There are UK resources specifically for conditions in this country too, of course, and the main one is the patients’ website of the British Dental Association.  There’s a lot of information here, but it’s trying so hard to be “friendly”, it’s fussy and not terribly logical. Root around, though, and you’ll find a lot of information and self-help advice.

The British Dental Health Foundation are an independent charity working to improve dental health internationally. They have a pretty comprehensive list of topics underneath the heading “Tell Me About”, as well as in other areas.

6. Tea Tree Oil

Over at WebMD/US, there’s a specific advisory against using tea tree oil in the mouth (or ears, or eyes). Apparently it can cause results as severe as coma, so the warning is important.

To Conclude

Occasional use of clove oil seems to be the only use for essential oil in dentistry terms.  Salty gargles to help keep the mouth clean are fine. And Over The Counter pain relief is relevant – ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetemol, in the recommended doses. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that packing the affected area with dampened teabags is a relief.  But all in all, all of the above bears out that prevention is better than cure.  Which could be a prepper’s motto in any case.

Stay healthy!

Dental Care, Part One

Dental care can be amazing in the West, just amazing. And although it can seem very expensive and even very painful, I for one certainly wouldn’t want to be without it. Last month, I went to the closing weeks of an exhibition at the British Museum, and one unforgettable image, which will stay with me forever, is of the huge hole in the jawbone of one of them, caused by a dental abscess.

It was particularly relevant for me, because a molar of mine had been living on borrowed time for years – there was a filling, then there was a root canal, then there was a crown, and then, in June of this year, there was an infection. A massive infection, that needed ten days of antibiotics to bring it under control, enough so that the whole thing could be extracted. The infection site could be seen quite clearly on the X rays, it was underneath the crown – so it was bound to keep flaring up every so often, nothing else to be done but have it extracted. Between the long term, low level infection that had an acute flare up, the misery of the extraction itself (painless, though, they have good drugs these days!), and the slow healing resulting from it being such a big tooth that had to go, I have a new-found sympathy for anyone suffering from dental problems of any sort, and a renewed determination to do all I can to keep myself out of the dentist’s chair. In the light of the continuing pressures on the dental work done in the NHS, that’s the only sensible way to go, prepper or not.

Dental health isn’t just about your mouth and your teeth, however – there’s a lot of evidence that it’s “linked with general health conditions such as diabetes, strokes, cardiovascular disease, poor pregnancy outcomes and even dementia. More research is needed to understand how these links work but there is more and more evidence that having a healthy mouth and gums can help improve your general health and reduce the costs of medical treatment.”  So says the British Dental Health Foundation.


What should be in the storecupboard?

1. toothpaste. A couple of types – fluoride and non-fluoride, at minimum.

2. toothbrushes – at least a couple stored up for each family member.  They don’t have to be the expensive sort – just a smallish head with soft or medium bristles.

3. dental floss

4. interdental brushes

5. denture brushes and cleaners: if relevant, obviously!  I don’t have any of this myself.  I wonder what denture owners would need if their ordinary cleaner wasn’t available?

6. dental mirror and kit – a couple of sets.

7. clove oil, for pain control.  More on this in another post.

8. tea tree oil, for infection control.  More on this in another post.

9. emergency fillings kit – a few, at least a few.

10. good painkillers – at least a week’s supply simply for this, let alone any other emergency, because that’s how long you might have to wait to see a dentist.

11. salt – a salt gargle is still recommended as an anti-bacterial measure, after an extraction, for instance.

My shoebox of dental prep!

So what’s the basic advice?

Technology has come a long, long way since Ancient Egyptian times, of course – and the basics, currently, are as follows:

– brush your teeth twice a day (the nooks and crannies, and the gumline, are both important).

– your toothbrush should be soft or medium bristles – hard is too hard.  It should be changed maybe twice a year, at the very minimum.

– use fluoride toothpaste.

– use dental floss, or interdens brushes.

– see a dentist twice a year for a checkup and hygiene work.

Eat healthily! It’s common sense, but for years it was hotly disputed, that what we eat is what our bodies use to grow, to fuel and to repair. So the better your diet, all other things being equal (such as your ability to digest, for instance) then the better your teeth will be. In particular make sure you get the five portions of fruit and veg a day – this is definitely the “eat healthy” part.



The recommendation about fluoride is disputed in terms of the long term safety, though I don’t think anybody disputes it’s positive effect on our teeth. And that fluoride issue. In the UK, about six million people have artificially fluoridated water, and another 300-400,000 have naturally fluoridated water. So the issue of civil liberties isn’t as strong here as it is over there, but it is still an issue, and the safety of fluoride itself is a huge issue for us, the same as for the Americans.

Having read as much as I can, I don’t have a way to judge the differing versions of the truth that are being offered, so I’m going to offer links to those alternative version here. What I can say, absolutely definitively, is that even the pro-fluoride people are saying “use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste” – whereas in the toothpaste adverts, we always see a long snake of toothpaste laid out over the whole length of the brush. That’s wrong – they want to sell more, of course, but it’s completely wrong, pea-sized is the way to go. Here are the links:

a government report from 2014 about the current state of fluoridation in the UK.

the NHS website has a lot of information about fluoridation. It has links to studies carried out in the UK, in the USA and in Australia. It does mention that there are health concerns, but says benefits exist when the correct amount of toothpaste is used, and the fluoridation of water is carried out correctly. “Correct” is a really important word, and I don’t automatically trust big firms to get these things right.

this is the home page of the British Fluoride Society – they have a free report you can download from here, if you click on the “One In A Million” link in amongst the tabs at the top. I strongly advise you to get that report, because it gives details about which areas in which regions have fluoridated water.

this is the American Cancer Society, laying out the pros and cons of the research about whether fluoride causes cancer – but the last thorough review, as they say, was conducted in 2006, quite a while ago especially for America, where over two thirds of the water supply is fluoridated.

another American website, published by the American Society of Pediatrics – as reputable an organisation as the ACS above. It looks like a fair debate for and against, but some of the wording on this landing page is open to question. Still, there’s a lot of information here, so it can be read with caution.

yet another American site (sorry! it’s a big issue over there because of the numbers involved, so a lot of the activists are US-based). Abstracts of dozens of scientific articles are freely available. They name both their Advisory Board and their half dozen or so staff members on the website.

The final entry is The UK Councils Against Fluoridation. It makes some interesting points – especially about the false “National Fluoride Information Centre”, but it really seems to be the personal website of a couple of people, not a grassroots movement of councils in the UK.

Personally, having reviewed this evidence, I’m not going to be using fluoridated toothpaste twice a day – once is enough. But I am going to be using it, and I’m going to carry on using interdens and getting my teeth checked as often as the NHS will allow.  And if the number of NHS check-ups we’re allowed is lowered again, I may experiment with that dental mirror and kit, and anything else I can think of, up to and including oil pulling.

I see I need to write another post about dental care.  That’ll be coming soon.  If anyone has any feedback, please post in the comments below – spreading the knowledge can only be a good thing.

Pandemic Avoidance, Part Two

There’s been a big gap between Part One and Part Two, my apologies – publishing my very first kindle book took up lots more time than I thought it would. I’m very happy with how things went, and I can see ways to improve on the experience, so that’s good too.

So, on to the reason for the post, infection avoidance – probably during a pandemic, but maybe during annual flu season too.

Public Toilets

I mentioned in Part One about not using public toilets if at all possible – but sometimes it isn’t possible. When I go to see family, for instance, the journey is almost 7 hours, door-to-door, and one Christmas when the connections were very bad, it was 12 hours. If you’re like me, you need to use the toilet during a journey of that length! I don’t drink water “on the hour every hour” as used to be recommended, but I certainly drink enough to avoid dehydration headaches.

I don’t use a train toilet unless I’m absolutely desperate: I’d rather use the ones in train stations, even though you have to pay a mint. Toilets on trains are notoriously dirty, and notoriously wet underfoot, and you can get banged into the walls – which are probably also dirty – by the motion of the train.

When it comes to a row of toilets in public centres, recent research has shown that fewer people use the toilets or urinals that are right by the door – they’re instinctively avoided. A straw poll of my friends confirmed this. Which means that the ones nearest the door get less use, but hopefully still get cleaned as often, so they’re less dirty. Result!

I’ve seen an American recommendation to flush a public toilet before you use it, as well as after. I don’t quite get the logic of this, because if its clean, it’s already been flushed. If in doubt, however, yes, flushing it before you use it can mean that splash caused by peeing from a great height (sorry!) at least happens with clean water. Then flush afterwards so that the next member of the public has a clean (ish) toilet to use.

There’s also “faecal florescence” to consider! The flush of a toilet catapults microscopic water particles high into the air, at least as high as your face. It sounds true to me, but I’ve also seen a Mythbusters TV programme that experimented as only they can, and exploded it definitively as a myth. Still, no harm in getting out of the cubicle as quickly as possible after flushing, just in case …

Toilet seats. You need your toilet seat to be dry, if you’re going to sit on it. For a good portion of the time, most women “hover” – which exercises the thigh muscles, if nothing else. But sometimes you need to sit down, if you’re going to pass a bowel motion, for example: then you have to get the seat dry. There may be very little (or no) toilet paper available, so I’d recommend you carry your own: squeeze some hand gel onto it, and there you are. Many women I speak to do this even now.

Toilet floors. Well, they’re often wet, aren’t they? Is it a leaking cistern, a leaking toilet, or urine from someone who missed the toilet or urinal? I think you need to assume the worst – even if you can see a cistern leak, it doesn’t mean there isn’t another leak, from the dirty water in the toilet, that you can’t see yet. So, at the very least, don’t put your bags down on the floor – hang them up somewhere, or hang them round your neck for that matter. Letting your clothes puddle on the floor isn’t a good idea, and nor is walking in there in bare feet in the summer!

Wash your hands! And if you have to leave the cubicle before you can do that, then touch your own stuff, like bag handles, as little as possible. If you have to touch the exit door of the toilets after you’ve washed your hands, then use a piece of the toilet paper you’ve brought with you to do it, and throw it away afterwards.

Sometimes there are still toilets that are revolting enough that they don’t have water in the basin taps, let alone toilet paper: in that situation, I recommend you vigorously rub your hands together, and then apply antibacterial hand gel and rub vigorously again. I carry my hand gel in a separate little pocket, where I can get at it without touching anything else I’m carrying.


Now, this had to be completely a matter of research – on the web, and with the various men in my life, who stammered through some awkward explanations, because I’m female, you see, and no matter how post-feminist enlightenment has changed the world, women still tend not to use men’s urinals….

Men’s Health magazine reported in 2013 on a Brigham Young University study about men’s use of urinals … astonishing, what universities will study! But this one turns out to have a lot of practical applications, all aimed (sorry!) at keeping the stream of urine intact, to avoid splashback and spreading ordinary bacteria. In a pandemic, obviously, there’s a chance of much worse being spread too, the pandemic virus. It sounds like the students cooked up some sort of artificial bladder to release “urine” at an average rate, filming from all sorts of angles all the while, to test out how much spray was caused, and by what methods. And to avoid “splash crowns”, especially from toilets rather than urinals (where the stream of pee is longer) this is what they found:

– stand close, so your stream of pee doesn’t break up into droplets (because droplets splatter more easily than a steady stream) but not so close that you touch the urinal with any part of your body.

– aim is crucial, as I think most guys already know. But as far as not picking up or passing on infections, aim towards the sides of the urinal at a downward slant; they draw the excellent analogy of keeping the head of foam on your beer to a minimum – you pour it down the side of your glass, not straight in.

– boys who aren’t quite tall enough to use a normal-size urinal should be encouraged to sit on a toilet, or use a footstool to be at the urinal – please don’t make a macho thing out of it!

Check out the Men’s Health Infographic at their site – it genuinely summarises a lot of information very simply!

I wonder if the blokes reading this have any tips? Care to share?

Hygiene At Home

For me, hygiene at home starts when I get home: washing my hands, and if there’s an infection issue, salt water gargling and rinsing my eyes, then drying thoroughly. Outer clothes and shoes, anything I’ve touched while I’m out, and anything that I’ve brought in from outside (such as groceries, new clothes, books, dvds, anything really) sit in my porch for a little while while I think about what needs to be done. Does this sound excessive? I bought a thin, summer weight dressing gown as a gift recently – but I don’t know who’d touched it in the shop that day, or whether they’d just wiped their nose, or a child had coughed on it as they’d walked by.

What to do with used tissues? If someone in your home is streaming with cold or ordinary flu or pandemic flu, I advise putting the tissues into a plastic bag straight away, not just leaving them in an open bin, or worse still putting them on the floor temporarily. Use a small plastic bag, tie it up and throw them away – two, three times a day if necessary. Get the germs out of your house, especially if we’re talking about a life threatening pandemic. I’ve no idea if someone recovering from a case of flu can reinfect themselves from their own tissues, and I have no intention of being the guinea pig! I advise that you think as highly of yourselves too.

If there’s a life threatening pandemic on, and you live in an area that’s at all densely populated, something to consider is when you ventilate your house, for your sake and the sake of your neighbours. You should give your home an airing during times when there are as few people as possible around – so that you pass your germs on as little as possible, and pick up as few germs as possible. You need oxygen more than you need to avoid germs!

There are other elements to hygiene at home, of course, mostly concerned with avoiding food poisoning, so I won’t cover those here.

I think that’s it for now. I do want to write about our immune system, and when we should and shouldn’t help it along – but once again, this is long enough, so I’ll do a Part Three after a while. Not right away though, I’m having fun learning about other things – computers, solar power and bug out bags, to name just a few. But if anyone has any tips on pandemic avoidance, please share in the comments below – it’s one of the most helpful things any of us can do.

Pandemics and Infection Avoidance

Pandemics are currently the greatest potential threat to us here in the UK, according to the government itself – the Cabinet Office report I linked to last week, in relation to volcanic eruptions, states that very clearly.  Searching the site led me here and here too which includes links about face masks and hand hygiene.  All very useful for getting the official take on things.

Personally, I don’t wait for an official declaration of pandemic before I start taking precautions – I take precautions during the annual flu season as well, because my immune system is at wet-paper-bag status for most of the year. So I thought it would be helpful to compile a list of precautions, and that’s what’s in the rest of this post. If anybody has any other precautions they use, or that they’ve heard of, I’d really appreciate you posting in the comments. As individuals, we have no control at all about whether an epidemic or a pandemic start up, but we have at least some control over the level of our exposure to it.

I’d advise keeping in touch with the news, internationally, nationally and locally, so that you know if the infection is spreading, mutating or on the decrease. This will also inform you of any new information about counter-measures such as vaccines. A couple of the big websites where you can find that level of news at a free, basic level are HealthMap and Global Incident Map.  These sites look really scary at first, but they give you an idea of whats happening. Remember, however, as we saw from the last six months’ Ebola cases outside of Africa – anywhere with an airport is vulnerable. Anywhere. By the way, both these sites are owned by Americans, according to their WhoIs data, and they claim many US corporate and governmental accounts.

There are several issues to take into account.

1 avoiding infection

2 killing infection if you come into contact with it

3 coming into contact with as little infection as possible.

4 strengthening your immune system. Or not.

I intended to explore each of these topics separately, but after writing it that way for a bit, it was like doing a jigsaw upside down, it just didn’t make sense. So the headings below are for separate ares of our lives: shopping, transport, public toilets, hygiene at home and so on.

Some of these measures are probably already part of the daily routine for people with vulnerable immune systems, while to others they may seem completely foreign. How many of these measures you implement is always a matter of choice, of course; but what if you were the one who brought the infection home to your kids, because you happened to be shopping at the same time as someone who’d just got off a plane and was infected with a pandemic virus? It’s possible, so please consider these things in that light.


Whereabouts we live in the country has some sort of effect on whether we catch a pandemic infection, though it’s not overriding, of course. If you live ten minutes from Heathrow, you’re probably exposed to a new infection more than someone living on, say, the Shetlands. But as I said above, anywhere with an airport is vulnerable at short notice, and the population density doesn’t make that much difference. It can just take one person ….

Location is important on a micro level as well as macro. You should choose your location in public places as carefully as possible – a waiting room, a bank, a train etc. Be aware of the air flows, and stay as close as possible to the source of fresh (not air conditioned) air. But don’t position yourself so that people can cough all over you: it may seem sensible on a train to sit as close to the doors as possible, but then you’re most likely to have people standing by you – and if they cough, then frankly, it goes all over you. Don’t let that happen during a pandemic.


Stockpile as much food and supplies as you can, and by supplies I mean things like spare fuses, lightbulbs and laces for your trainers. Things that are important and useful, but small and easily stored. It seems crazy to me to risk exposure during a pandemic wave to buy items like these. It might even be worth putting your shopping on credit cards, even if you can’t pay it off at the end of the month, during this sort of emergency, especially if you have a 0% deal you can access.

When you do need to shop, buy as much as possible at one shop, or at least on one trip – growing your own food will help you cut down on some shopping, but most of us are very far from self sufficient even in vegetables. So learn to shop safely: as few shops as possible, hand gel to clean the handle of the supermarket trolley and the self service till (using the self service may be a pain at first, but it means that the last shop worker to handle your goods was the one who actually put them on the shelf, and that might have been some time ago, long enough for viruses to die).

When you get your shopping home, you should have two buckets by the front door, along with a drainage or drying area (old towels in the cloakroom? That sort of thing) : one bucket containing a weak bleach solution, and the next containing ordinary water – use the bleach first, then the water, then the towels or drainage. Even I don’t do this during flu season, but I would in a pandemic, definitely.

The above bleach/water/drying or drainage procedure should also be followed if you have a delivery of course, whether from a supermarket or any other online shopping. Online shopping certainly avoids point-of-purchase infection, but you still have to take physical possession of whatever it is.

Pay by card to avoid handling cash. A card is much easier to disinfect than notes and coins, and if you’re using a contactless card (safely sitting in its RFID wallet for most of the time, I hope!) then that’s even better.


Do you have the sort of job where you could work from home, and simply avoid going out for big chunks of time? Or do you have work appointments at your home, or in a cafe? Skype is your friend in this situation; with local people, you could even just have a walk in the open air, in a quiet place. Negotiating with your employer could actually be a survival skill in this situation. And for your employer, business continuity would potentially be very valuable; retaining their skilled workforce certainly counts under this heading.

If you take payments from people, whether goods or services, ask them to pay you online – you don’t have to handle their cheques and envelopes, and you don’t have to go into the bank to deposit the cheque.

If you do have to travel, whether for work or anything else, travel at the quieter times of day if at all possible, even if that means spending longer at work. You could also change your route or method of transport – a bus instead of a train for short journeys, for example. Or walk! Again, negotiate with your employer to get the best deal for you and for them.

Personal Life

For your personal finances and arrangements, just as for your work, do as much online as you can, this will vastly reduce your exposure to infection. Use skype, facebook, ordinary email, texting, whatever you can, for yourself and your kids. Even conference calls, for small groups! But we’re a social species, and I think it’s inevitable that people will still want to meet up socially, in small numbers at least; larger events may well be prohibited during the active waves of any pandemic.

Each time you avoid infectious contact, you increase your chances of avoiding the pandemic altogether, and if it’s one with a high fatality count, that could be the difference between life and death. I’ve put it very melodramatically, but it might be true one day.

Even if you do decide to attend smaller social events, there are still things you can do to minimise the chances of infection: ask for part of the event to be held outdoors if at all possible, as viruses spread much less easily in the open air; walk to the event, or travel during a quiet part of the day or a (comparatively) quiet route; have any necessary tickets already so you don’t have to handle cash, take your own food and drink if possible (some venues forbid this, and it may be a step too far for your children), don’t use the public toilets, don’t shake hands. And of course, you should always take tissues and hand gel. You should also always use plasters on broken skin, especially on your hands during pandemics – if you want to let a cut breathe, then do it at home, where it’s safer.

When out and about, don’t touch anything you don’t have to touch. A banister, for example – very few people absolutely have to use a banister, but nearly everyone touches them. There’s no need, if your sense of balance is at all adequate. If there’s a swing door, push it with your foot. When seated on public transport, don’t get up from your seat until you’ve reached your stop (and then make sure you don’t miss your stop!) so that you don’t need to grab any handholds – I do this one already, because of arthritis in my shoulders, holding on in a moving train or bus is just too painful.

Assume you need a distance of about ten feet to avoid germs being passed to you by someone coughing or sneezing. Depending on various factors – wind, whether they cover their mouth and nose – this may be too much or not enough. But ten feet is often mentioned in studies of how bacteria and viruses are passed between people, so it’s a good average.

Finally, make a conscious effort not to touch your face – if you’re punching numbers into a bank’s key pad, or paying by cash, or picking up a Click and Collect delivery, you’re touching things that have recently been touched by other people. Keeping away from your face until you can wash your hands when you get home is just common sense, it’s advised even during ordinary flu season.

To Be Continued!

There’s still a lot to say, so there’ll be a Part Two of this next week, this post is long enough.  Do check back again, and please let me know if you see a gap in what I’ve written.