Question: You signed off your column last week with “Anchors away!” Shouldn’t it have been “anchors aweigh?”
Reply: Right you are, dear reader! Glad to see you’ve been paying attention in class. The correct term is “aweigh,” meaning that the anchor has been raised, free from the bottom. My sincerest apologies to all swabbies.
Question: My general question concerns flu, viruses, etc. When you go to a hospital, the temperature is like a walk-in cooler. I always assumed they keep the hospital’s temperature low to keep the germs down. On the other hand, the flu virus seems to love cold weather, and goes away when the weather warms up. It just doesn’t make sense. Please help me put this in perspective. (Submitted by John T. & Mary Bray, Bottletree Antiques Farm, Donalds)
Reply: Going into a hospital can be a chilling experience, particularly in the Emergency Room (ER) and an operating room. Colder temperatures make for a safer environment by helping to slow bacterial growth. Analogously, we put foods in cool refrigerators to slow bacterial growth. Operating rooms are some of the coldest spots in a hospital, at a recommended 65 to 69 degrees Fahrenheit, and a humidity level of 70% to keep the risk of infection at a minimum.
Humidity is an important factor in controlling condensation. The cooling air conditioning takes humidity out of the air. (Note how auto air conditioning leaves a puddle on the ground when you stop.) This prevents condensation buildup on surfaces within the hospital.
Condensation buildup from humidity and warm temperatures makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to be carried from surface to surface, causing contamination. This is particularly important in the operating room with sterilized equipment and open wounds. (If too cold for the surgical patient, warming pads may be applied, as well as blankets for patients in other parts of the hospital.)
Another important factor for cooling is staff comfort. Staff members are usually on the run, and in some places are wearing protective surgical gowns and masks for long lengths of time. Think of surgeons standing at the operating table under the heat of bright lights. You wouldn’t want them perspiring while operating. (This makes me recall old movies where the nurse wipes the sweat from the surgeon’s brow during operation.)
Viruses are something else. We know a good bit about bacteria, but we have a lot to learn about viruses, as you well know if you’ve been following the coronavirus. We think of the flu virus as being seasonal, occurring mainly in the winter. Part of the reason is that we congregate inside during the winter and are closer together for the flu to spread.
Also, research has shown that the flu virus has an outer membrane composed of lipids (oils, fats and cholesterol). At cold temperatures, the virus’s outer membrane solidifies into a gel, which is believed to make it easily transmittable from person to person. In the warm respiratory tract of an infected person, this membrane membrane melts, and the virus can infect the cells of its new host.
The coronavirus is a new and unfamiliar viral strain. We do not yet know if it has a seasonal effect like the flu. We hope it does, and that the pandemic will soon subside long enough for a vaccine to be developed. In the meantime, listen to and practice the recommended preventive measures, such as social distancing and washing your hands often.
C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): Recommended apparatus for ensuring six feet of social distancing: fasten two yard sticks end to end.