As the coronavirus continues its march across the planet, media is bombarding us with hand washing and hand sanitizing messages. Stores are sold out of sanitizer and cleaning wipes. And though it took a rapidly spreading virus to raise the level of handwashing awareness, it is important to understand the differences between using a sanitizing gel vs. soap and water to combat germs.
While it is understood that soap and water are not always available, if there is a choice, go for the soap. Here’s why:
According to the CDC, “Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of microbes on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.”
Hand sanitizers can reduce the number of germs on the hands, but may not break the chain of viruses or other bacteria. The sanitizer, in concentrations of alcohol over 60 percent, can reduce the desirability of the hands as a surface for breeding, but does not clean the hands or remove dirt and grime.
Soap, however, actually breaks down the molecular structure of the virus and essentially makes it fall apart. The friction of handwashing helps to loosen microbes which are then washed down the drain. So, soap actually works to remove bacteria from your hands, not just kill it in place.
And regular soap works great, so there is no need to buy antibacterial soaps which contain additives that have been shown to actually make bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
Germs can live on surfaces that we touch every day. The best way to reduce your chance of picking up an unwanted illness is to keep your hands away from your face. Bring your own pen to sign in at the doctor’s office, don’t touch handrails or door handles and if you must, use a paper towel or your elbow. Consider your hands “hot” once you’ve touched a community surface and do not brush your hair away from your face, scratch an itch, or rub your eyes.
One of the characteristics of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is that people who are not showing symptoms can be carriers of the virus. This means that if the people around you are not visibly ill, they could still have the contagion and be a transmitter.
This does not mean that people should all go into isolation; rather, keep your hands clean as you would every day and keep a “social distance” from folks. As a respiratory illness, the virus is spread through cough and sneezes; droplets will land on surfaces and await their next ride.
Even if you have a persistent dry cough, cover your mouth. Tiny vapor droplets are emitted from your lungs through the mouth into the air that is expelled; again, cover your cough.
According to researchers at MIT, thousands of droplets are emitted by a cough at 100 mph, spreading bacteria and germs to unsuspecting bystanders. The droplets travel much further than initially thought and researchers have discovered invisible gas clouds that carry germs out in to a room.
Though germs surround our bodies every day, taking steps to reduce the entry of these agents by keeping hands away from eyes, nose and mouth helps to limit the amount of combat one’s system must engage in, and hopefully reduce the spread of disease to those who may be more vulnerable.
If you’ve used a tissue, wash your hands. If you’ve used an office phone, wash your hands; and wipe down your cell phone, as well. Use soap and water as much as possible and try to maintain the washing for twenty seconds. It’s a good habit to get into and just adopt as the new normal for your health.