BBC website: in countries where poverty and malnourishment are additional factors, rotavirus gastroenteritis may be responsible for as many as half a million child deaths every year.
Dr Peter Mansfield*: We were told a few weeks ago that “no child should die of diarrhoea. With rotavirus vaccine, they don’t have to.”
This is a slogan of a partnership involving the World Health Organisation and the US Centers of Disease Control who are jointly campaigning for worldwide vaccination against rotavirus. The chances are it will be added eventually to the list of must-have infant vaccines, even in Britain.
Why the accent on rotavirus? The availability of a newish vaccine, still in patent, must have a lot to do with this. But its performance in no way justifies the slogan I quoted. In the most prominent clinical trial of this vaccine in several African countries, it could only reduce the occurrence of severe rotavirus diarrhoea by under 40%. And in the real world, rotavirus is only one of myriad risks presented by sewage-contaminated drinking water.
Nothing beats decent sewerage, with drains laid below aquifers and water mains to reduce the risk of contamination. Such a simple precaution! The victims are powerless in this, which is where national authorities and the World Health Organisation should be investing.
Victims can help themselves a lot, though. We should all dry cookware and cutlery carefully, after cleaning it as well as we can. We should store them in a dry, airy place, food side down – in sunlight if possible. Since being told that for my expedition to Aswan in 1965, I have never heard it repeated. Yet germs cannot multiply without moisture, and keeping the total number of germs as low as possible is the best way to minimise disease. To banish germs altogether, or be vaccinated against every possible risk, is complete pie in the sky.
If money could be made out of washing up and careful drying, we’d hear more about it!
- Wash hands carefully, using a nailbrush, before preparing food
- Use separate chopping boards for preparing flesh and vegetables – don’t mix them up! Rinse well and dry after use.
- Use fresh ingredients where possible.
- Store flesh items properly chilled or frozen, and cook them thoroughly.
- Wash up pots, pans, cutlery and crockery promptly. Rely mostly on clean, hot water and if you insist on using detergent, rinse it off carefully before you dry. (It takes very little swallowed detergent to damage the lining cells of your intestine.)
- In a hot climate, store cookware upside down on open racks in sunlight.
- Electrocute flies – avoid insecticide burners or sprays. But screen windows and doors to exclude them in the first place!
* Peter Mansfield became interested in the nature and practice of health, which transformed his style of general medical practice first in Bermondsey and then in Louth, Lincolnshire. It was based on health-giving principles, rather than exclusive attention to disease.
In 1979, he founded a club for health alongside his medical practice, then a charitable think-tank to develop his ideas. He reintroduced home birth into Lincolnshire, helped to stop aerial pesticide spraying in the county and has been a prominent critic of additives, patent law as it applies to medicines, water fluoridation and of present UK public health policy in relation to routine childhood immunisation.
He is Director of Good HealthKeeping Ltd and an aviation medical examiner approved by the Joint Aviation Authority.
Though his post was destined for a largely English readership, the editor of this website approved its inclusion.