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The Ebook and the Sickroom

The news today, as for the past weeks has big focus on ebola, and not to make light of such a deadly virus, but it does seem to be mostly news scaring and commentary, versus actual information. For most schools Flu is a more deadly situation as the CDC puts the average number of annual deaths in the United States somewhere between 3,000 and 49,000. But thinking about contagions and what I experienced as a middle and high school science teacher and certified school media specialist reminded me of a few more of the reasons that I do love ebooks. As an educator in a school you do see transfer, as the number of students sick with something grows and then declines (often effecting the teachers too) as the school is a microcosm of which I would see 150 a day (not counting lunch, hallway, and bus duty) out of a population of a few thousand .  A few years ago when I was a judge in a regional science fair I found a really interesting project done my a young girl. She had done a study of school library books where she took swabs from the covers and inside pages and then grew cultures to find out what virals that the books had on them. To do this she explained to me that had had to sign non-discloser agreements with the schools to never tell where the samples came from. She then worked with a local hospital, which grew her cultures and then had them analyzed. I don't remember exactly what virals that she found (it was a few years ago), but there were quite a few. Also the hospital told her that they couldn't release the samples to her as they were to dangerous and had to be destroyed. 

Paper isn't a very good medium for the transfer of contagions, as a dry surface and in most elementary and children's libraries the book covers are routinely wiped down with an antibacterial agent.   Of course I also remember the number of textbooks that wold be cheeked in at the end of the year that had water damage, so books and the paper contents are not always dry, even so they can be usually safe.

But special conditions can arise, that of the small sick child at home. One thing that is common for younger children who have to say at home if for the parent to visit the library and get them books to read.  Often one of the things that a librarian or volunteer may have to do with the returned books (other than shelve them of course) is to wipe down book covers with a lightly dampened cloth or sanitizing cloth, this is especially true with the children’s collection.  As one person who has worked in the children’s section wrote:

Anyone who has ever worked in a library could probably tell you that wiping down the covers of the books in the children’s section is one of the most grimy and disgusting tasks you could ever be assigned. I’d personally rather clean the toilets with a wet wipe to be quite honest! (Rachel Tackett)

While I haven't been able to find a lot of data available concerning books and transmission of infections, there is quite a bit on toys. Here for example is some of the content from a article in the Paediatrics & Child Health Journal:
  • Contact transmission is the most frequent route and includes direct contact (physical contact between infected and susceptible patients) and indirect contact (via contaminated intermediate surfaces such as hands, equipment and toys). 
  • Microbial contamination of toys has been documented in hospitals, physician’s offices and day care centres. 
  • Fecal coliforms and rotavirus have been found on toys in day care centres and in hospital
Body fluids include saliva, mucus, vomit, feces, sweat, tears, breast milk, urine, and semen.

So if you are sharing books between children at home or elsewhere (where some are sick and others are not) some things to consider:
  • Most flu viruses can live one to two days on nonporous surfaces, and 8 to 12 hours on porous surfaces. 
  • Both influenza A and B viruses survived for 24-48 hr on hard, nonporous surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic but survived for less than 8-12 hr on cloth, paper, 
  • Hepatitis A can survive for at least 24 hours if the pages are damp while botulism spores could potentially last for years 
  • The measles virus survives for up to 2 hours outside of the body, and so can also be transmitted from inanimate objects contaminated by the measles virus. 
  • The chicken pox virus can be spread through contact with fluid from your blisters, but it can also live for periods of time on inanimate objects. 
  • And just to include some Ebola information, it is killed with hospital-grade disinfectants (such as household bleach) but on dried nonporous surfaces can survive for several hours.
And while the application of cleaning antibacterials like bleach or vinegar may work well for tables and toys, they don't sound appropriate for books. 

And what does this have to do with ebooks, you might ask? Well, my ebook device is mine and isn't usually shared with others. And in just a few moments without leaving my house, when I'm not feeling well I can download as much as I want to read or listen to from purchasing titles, downloading them from free sources, or even borrowing titles from my public or school library. The same convenience that I have with my device when I'm traveling as I have at home. And now Kobo has created the first waterproof reader, something that could be cleaned by dipping or wiping with a diluted antibacterial solution or placing in a UV light box for a while. So if you are not feeling well, think about taking your ereader to bed and have a nice relaxing read and drink plenty of fluids. 

Kobo Aura H2O

If you are interested in books and disease you might like to read L. B. Nice's paper on The Disinfection of Books from 1912 - definitely something scary to read for Halloween. 


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