Hidden Dangers

(The below is a speech that I wrote last night for my Rostrum speaking club – the topic was ‘Hidden Dangers)

Humans are fragile things. You hit them with a car – they die. You feed them teeny-tiny chunks of arsenic – they die.  You lock them in a room without oxygen – they die.  And of course, if you expose them to a new, never-before-seen virus – they die.  Their crumpled little shells crinkle, crack and creak until – poof – they turn to dust. 

Some dangers are obvious – for example, diving headlong into a vat of broken glass has clear consequences.  Other dangers are hidden away from our ever-alert, ever-nervous eyes.  For us humans, hidden dangers lurk everywhere – in what we breathe, what we eat, and what we touch. 

An apparent hidden danger is of course the coronavirus and the associated disease, Covid-19.  The normal rules of ‘keep away from danger’ don’t apply with a virus.  You can’t smell or taste it – so you don’t know to avoid breathing it in or eating it.  And you can’t see with your eyes if a surface is contaminated – so you could be touching it RIGHT NOW and not know it!

It does spread through the air – but fortunately that is not as easy to catch it as you might think. 

It appears so far to require direct contact with an infected person or respiratory droplets.  And it needs to be for a fairly prolonged period of time – about 15 minutes face to face contact – anywhere – for the 24 hours before the onset of symptoms in the infected person.  Or, about two hours of sharing a closed space (about two or more hours) is a problem (Yay for lectures!).  But the virus does not seem to spread through air conditioning – it only survives in the air for a short time.  So – if an infected person coughs with you in the direct path, and you breathe in the droplets in the air, then the hidden danger is revealed and you can get coronavirus.

To stop this, you can use a face mask – I guess, though that’s not foolproof, you need to replace the mask often, and is better if the infected person wears it.  Better – respect personal space, avoid close contact with coughing or sneezing people, and give yourself plenty of space to avoid droplets – say, 6 feet :).  Personal space is important!

As for getting Covid-19 from what we eat, that seems unlikely unless you are actually eating an infected animal.  Still you should probably avoid preparing food for other people if you think you have Covid-19.  And… maybe avoid the purchase of food from places that look a little… dodgy (though that’s good advice for all of the time). 

The hidden danger is that you can pick up the coronavirus from hard surfaces.  The virus can last on surfaces for a few hours, or several days. Current research says it depends on the type of surface, temperature, and humidity.  That benchtop could have had someone sneeze on it yesterday and you’d not know it!  Ick! 

An alcohol-based wet wipe – more than 70% ethanol, isopropanol, or 2-propanol – will kill the virus within about a minute.  So that’s good news – maybe instead of toilet paper, we should stock up on those?  If you have visions – as I did – of killing it with Glen20 – well, that won’t work.  At all. 

So, maybe carry around alcohol-based wet wipes for this purpose. 

If you have skin-on-skin contact – such as shaking hands or – cough – something more, intimate – then you probably can’t throw someone into a vat of hand sanitiser.  So, in such cases, maybe just avoid touching your eyes, or mouth.  Or you know, licking the desk in front of you…

The other clear and related advice is to wash your hands with soap.  For the full 20 seconds – Happy birthday sung twice is about right, as is, thankfully, the main chorus to Mambo No. 5:  ‘A little bit of Monica in my life, a little bit of Erica by my side… all the way through to Number 5 when those 7 girls make you their man.’


So – the danger is real, but it is hidden.  Fortunately, although humans are fragile, they do tend to survive.  Humanity will continue.  For such fragile little shells, we are robust enough.  The hidden dangers – well, we can’t see them, but we can do things about them.  Covid-19 is not as dangerous as Ebola, where half the people that get it die!  But it’s not obvious that you are in risk of getting it, it’s not obvious if you have it, but it can be most unpleasant to have. 
We should all be vigilant as to what we breathe, eat and touch. 


Covid-19 is not as dangerous as Ebola.  With Ebola, 50% of people who get it, die!  With Covid-19, that number’s about 1% – maybe more, maybe less.  Still, it’s more than the flu, which is 0.1%, and measles, which is 0.2%.  But the trouble is that the ‘reproduction number’ – the number of people that one infected person infects – is actually higher than Ebola.  Ebola is 1.9, Covid-19 is 2.8.  Unllike Ebola – which kills quite quickly – Covid-19 is merely uncomfortable and people spread it around until they realise they’re sick.   You tend not to do that with Ebola…

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