The importance of different protective layers against infection

The Swiss cheese model - a popular explanatory model for virus control

If we want to protect ourselves from colds, or risks in general, we often talk about "layer-on-layer" protection, or "belt and suspenders". Some industries even refer to the "Swiss cheese model" . This article gives you a quick overview of this explanatory model, and how it can apply to virus and infection control. It also mentions the importance of a somewhat forgotten layer of protection.

The one who originally developed the Swiss cheese explanatory model is Professor James T Reason at the University of Manchester – although he didn’t refer to cheese when he first presented his theory of protection in the early 1990s.

The basic thesis is that all individual protective measures and people can fail. Completely, partially or to some small percentage. By having several layers of protection, these protective failures have less severe consequences. The defense becomes more robust and less sensitive to changes and mistakes at each layer.

The model gets its name because each protective layer can be compared to a slice of Swiss cheese, with holes of varying sizes in each slice. The different slices also have different thicknesses depending on the protection they offer, but it is vital that if one cheese slice disappears, there are more left. The defense can then also be developed and adapted as things change.

Viral explanation model for virus control

During the fight against the coronavirus, the model attracted international attention, mainly thanks to the Australian virologist Ian Mckay. His images and argumentation became almost globally viral in some circles during the pandemic (no pun intended). However, the “cheese slice” technology never took its rightful place as an apparent protective layer regarding virus control and reduced spread of infection.

LightAir Swiss Cheese1

The popular Swiss cheese model, freely adapted from the English professor Reason and the Australian virologist Mckay

What "cheese slices" can protect us against viruses?
The various cheese slices consist of a wide range of tools and requirements that can be voluntary or statutory. As we have seen in recent years, most  slices are very much based on individual responsibility, as well as on measures decided by authorities and direct laws. This includes everything from hand washing, social distancing, hand alcohol and staying home in case of symptoms, to government decisions regulating crowd sizes, closed offices, travel restrictions, and more.

Measures in the form of cheese slices can be removed or added – in which case the level of protection increases or decreases over time. No individual slice is dominant, and everyone has its holes, or weak points. Mouthguards can be used incorrectly, just as you can wash your hands quickly and carelessly. These are examples of holes in these specific cheese slices.

Vaccines are powerful and important protections by themselves. However, vaccine protection is not 100% and the protection decreases over time, so you must be careful about getting additional doses over time. The fact that the defense is not comprehensive and depends on the human factor is a hole in the vaccine slice.

Each cheese slice represents a fundamental and essential measure in a protective system but should be combined with several other cheese slices that block the passage of virus particles.

The Swiss cheese model WITH technology as an actively used protective layer. In addition to high efficiency, technology also has a longer and more durable service life than many other defense measures.


Technology – the cheese slice that lasts 

One of the most essential and most protective cheese slices, which has unfortunately been neglected in this context, is technology. Even though it is a permanent slice of cheese that keeps the protection up even over time, other more reactive measures have taken almost all the spotlight.

It is hardly a controversial assessment that vaccines and technology are the protective measures that we will accept over a more extended time and manage to maintain in everyday life in, for example, offices and schools.

And back to the coronavirus, there is now an even better picture of what it means to society, including the insight that this is one of many viruses we will be living with for a long time. And while vaccines are often developed and designed to only work on a specific virus, complementary technologies offer a more comprehensive range and protection against both old and new viruses, making them even more practical and effective.

So it’s high time to add this technical protection layer on a broad front – not just in the Swiss cheese model, but also in practice.

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