Control Over Coronavirus is in Your Hands

Don’t underestimate the power of hand washing and good old-fashioned soap and water.

The quick action of the Austrian government – implementing social distancing measures and closing down the borders – has been successful at curbing the number of COVID-19 cases.

But with the country reopening, numbers could surge again.

Now is not the time to let your guard down. We need to stay diligent, and not forget the habits we have worked so hard to establish to preventing a renewed spread of COVID-19. We know the list: social distancing, disinfecting – and when we can, avoiding – frequently touched surfaces, and touching our faces.

Most importantly, we need to wash our hands.

As restrictions are gradually lifted, it’s worth reviewing why all this matters: It’s about the droplets from breathing, coughing and sneezing from people infected with SARS-CoV-2 that may end up on surfaces they touch, leaving behind virus that can remain active and stay infectious for hours or even days. When we touch contaminated surfaces like handrails, doorknobs, elevator buttons, when we touch our eyes, nose or mouth without even realizing it, we effectively spread infection.

Keep your hands clean

Besides not touching your face – which is hard to do –the easiest way to prevent bacterial and viral pathogens is to wash your hands. In fact, now as we begin to be able to meet with friends again, keeping our hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading the coronavirus to others.

Hand washing alone will have a significant impact on reducing the chances of a new COVID-19 outbreak. 

You may wonder why one of the cheapest and easiest ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus is the simple act of washing your hands frequently with soap and water.

  • First: you decrease the number of bacteria, viruses and other types of microorganisms on your hands with soap and water; this makes your hands slippery and encourages the bugs to wash off.  
  • Second you actually can kill the virus, because SARS-CoV-19 and many other microbes break apart in contact with soap and water and disinfectants like those containing alcohol, chlorine, and peroxide.

The key is to do it frequently. Hand washing or rubbing your hands with hand sanitizer is especially crucial after visiting a public space, touching surfaces outside of your home, in subways, buses, trains, shops, and places of worship. Remember to wash your hands before cooking and eating, after using the bathroom, cleaning around the house, touching pets, handling garbage, changing babies’ diapers, helping kids use the toilet, and whenever your hands are visibly dirty.

It is also essential after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing and before and after using a tissue or handkerchief.

Washing with soap and water is the simplest, lowest-tech way to stop the spread of COVID-19. Washing with liquid soap is best, especially in public places; at home, either liquid or bar soap generously applied is more than adequate. No need to spend more on antibacterial soaps; regular soap is just as good. Cold and warm water are also equally effective at eliminating the virus, although warm water may be better at lathering up your soap.

There are instructions online from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Johns Hopkins University to learn how to wash your hands properly.

Here is a ‘how to wash your hands’ poster that can be printed and posted near your sink:

Ideally, you need to wet your hands with running water, apply enough soap to cover your wet hands, rub all surfaces of your hands including the front and back, palms, between fingers, under your rings and watch (if it’s not possible to take them off) and under your nails for at least 20 seconds. Then rinse thoroughly with running water and finally dry your hands and under your rings and watch with a clean towel, paper towel or air dry because moist hands are better at spreading the virus than dry hands. Count or sing a tune that lasts for 20 seconds to help with the timing. Fast, handwashing without soap is ineffective as you can see in this Ultraviolet (UV) gel simulation video demonstration:

Teach your children how to wash their hands

Because children are mostly asymptomatic spreaders of COVID-19 and other diseases, helping them learn to wash their hands will stop the spread and get them in the habit of keeping their hands clean.

If soap and clean running water are not nearby, then use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. You should also rub your hands to ensure full coverage for at least 20 seconds.

Frequent washing and sanitizing will leave hands dry. Ideally, use a water-based hand cream when needed to keep the skin on your hands moist and intact. Also, it is good to protect your hands when you can by wearing gloves when washing dishes or the car, when gardening or cleaning around the house.

The benefits of frequent effective hand washing go beyond COVID-19, of course washing your hands will protect you and others getting sick with other viruses and bacteria. Do this, and you might never get a cold again!

Help stop the next COVID-19 outbreak! Keep calm and carry on washing your hands.  

(Foto: 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash)

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Dr. Michelle Epstein
Michelle Epstein is a medical doctor graduated from the University of Alberta in Canada, who has specialised in Internal Medicine at the University of British Columbia and Allergy and Clinical Immunology at Yale University. Since 2004, she has been a Lab Leader at the Medical University of Vienna’s Division of Immunology.

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