Well, now that we have your attention, let us talk about something simple that may reduce your chances of contracting the Coronavirus as well as the Flu and many other diseases. Simple handwashing is one of the keys, but as in the case of many techniques, it must be done properly in order to work.
But first, let’s step back a little and answer the question “What do my hands have to do with a respiratory virus?” The primary mode of contracting most respiratory viruses is by coming into contact with the viral particles that have been expelled into the air by means of a cough, or a sneeze. Based upon studies looking at college students with the flu, it was found that many infected people released viral particles into the air by merely exhaling their breath or when speaking. This also looks as if it may apply to the coronavirus as well. However, in addition to encountering airborne particles, our mucous membranes can also come into contact with infectious pathogens by being touched with a finger or hand that has picked them up from a contaminated surface. Some medical authorities believe that more influenza is spread by this means rather than the airborne route- I would agree.
Based upon a study I have often quoted, it would appear that we touch our faces an average of 23 times/hour and that nearly half of those times (44%), it is a mucous membrane area! Alarmingly, 36% of the time, they touched their mouths, 31% of the time their noses, and 27% of the time, their eyes. Although this study looked at medical students (a group that should appreciate the dangers of frequent face-touching) one can imagine that for others, the number of times/hours is likely greater.
So, you can see why hand washing is so important, because it is the route to getting something from a surface you’ve touched into your body! Let’s look at why soap removes bacteria and viruses more effectively than does water alone. Soap consists of molecules that both bind with water and also bind to fats. In the case of viruses that are surrounded by a lipid (fatty) envelope (like the Corona viruses and Influenza A, for instance) when attaching to the virus, soaps disrupt this envelope; essentially poking holes in its defenses. In addition to disrupting the fatty layer of the virus, soap molecules also form around the virus or other agent and help to suspend it in the water, so that these agents rinse off much more easily. The explanations I just gave is somewhat simplistic. For a more detailed explanation, I refer you to a more detailed article in the New York Times .
Now that we have established the importance of handwashing, how do we effectively do it? More likely than not, most of us have been doing it wrong. The keys are for at least 20 seconds, lathering up well, and something I would add, making sure you rub the tips of your thumbs into your palms in a circular motion (they are often neglected!).
Please take a look at this excerpt from the CDC’s handwashing site. It is important to follow these five steps every time you wash your hands:
1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
In addition to keeping social distancing, staying home unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out, you need to wash your hands (to quote the CDC), “After you have been in a public place and touched an item or surface that may be frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens, etc.”