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Viruses are scary and that’s OK

Are you hearing this all the time? Because I am.


I got slagged-off on the grapevine the other week for advising people on Facebook to wash their hands and stay calm. Apparently this is “telling people what to do.” I mean, regardless of what I type anywhere, you are still free to be a revolting cretin as much as you like, I just want to give the people I love and care about something to consider in their management of this absolute clusterfuck of a situation (so, it wasn’t really meant for you anyway).

This is a black alert, shelter-in-place, as close to an apocalypse as we can get, may well and truly destroy society as we know it, situation. As the sort of person who wipes switches and handles before and after guests visit even when there’s nothing going on, who has an amateur interest in pathogens (I have a certificate actually) and Civil Defence, I think I’m in a decent position to give thoughts on this crisis as a civilian.


I am also someone who can absolutely not afford to have this virus enter my house. I’ve been warned I would not survive normal influenza, I’ve been getting the ‘flu jab on the NHS for years. I have what are referred to as “underlying health conditions” even though they are not very underlying at all in my daily life. Getting the common cold is torture enough. I cannot imagine the pain I would be in from getting this virus, nevermind the strain on my internal systems. The very nature of Dysautonomia means that the automatic responses my body has to things are incorrect and sometimes actively unhelpful and dangerous. I don’t want my nervous system to have to try responding to this virus. I have multiple neurological conditions and each one is yet another vulnerability to this kind of infection.


But even healthy people should not go anywhere near this virus. I saw footage on the news of a woman in bed with the virus, constantly making a noise somewhere between screaming and crying. It was raw suffering. I saw a woman in Italy making hideous noises as she constantly gasped for breath. You do not want this disease to touch your life.


So, fucking take action and follow instructions. The government are telling you what to do in order to live through this outbreak and you absolutely need to listen.


What to do:

Wash your hands with soap and water

  1. When you come in from going shopping or being out of the house
  2. When you’ve been touching lots of surfaces and/or items
  3. When you done anything that physically dirties your hands
  4. When you’ve been to the toilet (obviously)

Get good and soapy, scrub under your nails, scrub your wedding ring.
But also moisturise your hands because if they get dry and cracked from the amount of washing you are doing, or because you’ve used sanitiser, then bacteria and viruses are going to have somewhere to hide and latch onto. I use O’keeffe’s when I get into bed at night, and have done for some time because normal housework destroys my hands.

I honestly wouldn’t recommend hand sanitiser unless there is some absolute emergency that requires you to douse your hands in gel and let it air-dry. I think the risks from making your hands dry are too much. The only reason I’ve carried hand sanitiser is in case I get a blob of dog poo on my hand on a walk in the middle of the park, and wouldn’t otherwise be able to clean my hands until I got home.


Disinfect your surfaces

  1. Inside the car: steering wheel, door releases and handles, seatbelt buckles, any buttons and switches, latches for glove boxes etc., when you first get in the car and when you get home.
  2. Around the house: light switches, door handles, microwave dials, appliance buttons, tap handles and toilet flushes, at the very least go around doing it last thing at night.
  3. Items: computer/laptop keyboard and mouse, phone screen and back and sides, remote controls, any fomites and touchpoints, at least once in the morning and evening.
  4. Disinfect items before and after sharing them with another person.
  5. Try to get out of the habit of touching your face after touching anything, fomite-to-face transmission is a big problem and you want to avoid the virus getting to your eyes, nostrils or mouth.

A normal pack of disinfectant wipes will serve you well, whether Dettol, the bargain Power Force ones, or the nice citrus ones that come in boxes at Wilko, they are all pretty much the same. Keep a separate pack in the car for ease of use.
Aerosol disinfectant sprays (e.g. Dettol all-in-one spray) are handy for things like going across your keyboard, disinfecting tap handles and upholstery.

Put a splash of Zoflora (or even cheap pine disinfectant from Asda will probably do) in the washing machine every now and then, and make sure cutlery and crockery get a good hot wash in the dishwasher.





You don’t need a mask unless you currently have a respiratory infection (that could be passed to others), or are especially vulnerable to getting such an infection. They provide no benefit over normal handwashing.

We do have masks in our first aid supplies, bought a long time ago, in case Will ever brings the ‘flu home. I don’t need to wear one now, unless the virus gets into our house, or if things get even worse than they currently are and I need to go out. Masks are needed by those on the frontlines, surrounded by infected patients. Please don’t buy some you don’t need.


Stop stockpiling bullshit

Buy things in normal amounts so there is enough for everybody. I do not understand what the fuck is going on with the toilet roll in this country, and the other things that idiots have chosen to panic-buy. I can’t even find an aubergine for Joop to eat. A fucking aubergine!

You only need one multipack of toilet roll in a week or two . We have 4 toilets in this house and we don’t get more than one multipack at once. I have IBS and probably use the most toilet roll of everybody, but we just absolutely do not need that much, I can’t imagine why anybody thinks they do, do you all have 20 toilets?! We actually need to buy a normal pack of toilet roll for our household soon and there just fucking isn’t one.

Do your normal weekly shop and stay fucking calm.


No matter how desperate you get, do not reward reselling assholes who are marking up the prices for everything they needlessly bulk-bought in stores and are now making a profit with. Normal hot water is better than nothing if push comes to shove. Clean your house with hot water and wash your ass. It’s a break in routine and might mentally affect you for a while, but it won’t kill you, and price-gouging cunts deserve nothing from you.


Self-isolate if you think you are ill

We should all be staying at home as much as possible at this point anyway, but basically, if you have any suspicion that you might have this virus, or really any infectious illness, stay in your home, don’t go to work, definitely don’t go to the fucking gym.

Each person with the virus will infect 2 or 3 others, if not more. It’s better to be safe than sorry, prevention is better than cure, you could give it to 3 people who in turn give it to 3 people, then it just keeps on spreading, it winds up reaching vulnerable people, it becomes more and more catastrophic. You have the power to stop the spread.


The recommendation no longer seems to be that you should call 111. I would advise calling if you get to the point that you (or someone with you) are struggling to breathe, because you may well end up needing to go into the ICU.

Do not go to your GP or hospital in person. Even if you think you need to go to A&E, always try to have a phone call made first rather than just turning up and spreading the virus. You can still use 111 and answer questions via the link above to determine if you do need to speak to someone.




Don’t panic but be vigilant against infection

You should think about pathogens in daily life, anyway.



What to know


People are extremely resistant to hearing this but I’m sorry to have to say, COVID-19, properly called SARS-CoV-2 or Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, is not the same as a seasonal influenza going around. It is much, much worse.


I notice that a lot of the “I’m a microbiologist and you should be more worried about the normal flu instead” shares have disappeared from people’s Facebook profiles, and hopefully the original authors have learned how irresponsible it was to say that. Yes, you should be worried about seasonal flu, every year I say get the jab, even if you don’t have an underlying condition so you have to pay £6 at Superdrug, just do it. Seasonal flu kills 650,000 people a year, especially the elderly and vulnerable.


SARS-CoV-2 however, has a much higher mortality rate than the the flu. Influenza’s mortality rate is 0.1%, which is still hundreds of thousands of dead. SARS-CoV-2’s mortality rate is at least 2-3%.

The likelihood that you will need hospital care with this virus is almost 20%, compared to 2% with flu.

You are much more likely to die if you get this. Don’t get it. Don’t spread it. I cannot emphasise this enough. I really don’t care if you feel like I’m telling you what to do.


Young people are especially resistant to taking this seriously. I watched a news item yesterday about people who refused to stop going to the gym. One guy said “It’s a virus, everyone is going to get it, you’ve just got to take it on the chin.”

Today a guy in London was on the news, being asked why he was still out and about. He didn’t care about getting infected, and when asked what he thought about the risk of infecting others, he said that everyone other than him should be staying home.

The sheer, breathtaking ignorance of the above two men and their refusal to follow instructions, worryingly seems to be shared by a lot of the population. But hopefully they’ll only kill themselves and not the rest of us.


This is an absolutely serious disease pandemic that has changed life as we know it for the minimum of the next 3 months, assuming we can turn the tide against it. There are already fleets of military trucks moving coffins from crematoriums that are too overwhelmed to process them. Groups have robbed hospitals for their sanitiser. Strains could mutate to something we simply can’t fight. There are probably some things authorities aren’t telling us because they need us not to panic. This could genuinely end things for us. Don’t be stupid.



You can learn useful things from disaster movies

People generally seem to be advising that you don’t watch virus movies, but I disagree.

Firstly, I think they can be a healthy outlet for your anxiety. Secondly, they can teach you things that are actually useful.

For example, I learned about the R-naught the first time I saw Contagion (2011). It teaches you a lot about how viruses spread, and how they are dealt with behind the scenes, and the things that can happen to people. Also, how stupid people will get.


It can also give you some hope for the development of a vaccine. In real life, Israel actually expects to have one in a couple of weeks.


Although it’s not the same situation at all, because the victims of this virus aren’t getting up from the dead, I also recommend World War Z (2013). You can use the zombies as a metaphor for how quickly viruses spread across the entire planet. Again, you can see how stupid and violent some people get. View SARS-CoV-2 as if it will turn you into a monster from this film, and act accordingly.



There’s also a 1995 film called Outbreak that a lot of people are recommending, but I haven’t seen it yet. There’s a documentary on Netflix about pandemics that was also decent viewing, and I’m sure things like I Am Legend and 28 Days/Weeks later are good entertainment during these times.

Speaking of Will Smith, it’s time to listen to the scary robots in I, Robot and RETURN TO YOUR HOMES.




Public Health England

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

WHO sitrep

Link to new WHO sitreps



Oh, and avoid conspiracy theories like the virus itself.



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