There might be little left to be said about COVID-19, the new coronavirus that has frightened the world since the beginning of 2020. Daily updates about the number of people getting infected or discharged flood the news every day, raising the concern even more.
The coronavirus mainly spreads between humans via respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing; besides getting infected by breathing the exhaled droplets (mostly when standing within one meter), these droplets could fall on nearby surfaces, and others could catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces and then their eyes, nose or mouth.
Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands
We all know the importance of washing our hands, but most people only do it after going to the toilet or before cooking. Doing it frequently (and correctly) is even more important these days, with the coronavirus spreading fast to most countries around the world. There is scientific consensus on the fact that hand hygiene is one of the most effective way to protect ourselves, not only from viruses but also from food poisoning. We think we wash our hands correctly because we have been doing it long before we can even remember but how can we ensure that they are thoroughly cleansed?
Let’s go through it, because maintaining good hygiene is crucial to avoid the infection and it is always worthwhile to remember how to correctly perform the routine that (let’s not forget it) can protect us from getting sick from a number of diseases.
Bear these steps in mind from the next time you wash your hands. Hopefully, after a few times, you´ll do it properly without even thinking about it.
1. Open the tap and wet your hands with clean running water, either warm or cold. Don´t forget to turn off the tap afterwards.
2. Apply enough soap to cover all the surfaces of your hands. Regular soap will do the job; no need to use antibacterial soap.
3. Work up some lather on both sides of your hands, up to the wrists, for at least 20 seconds. Use one hand to rub the back of the other, clean in between the fingers and underneath the nails.
4. Rub the back of your fingers against the palms, and your thumb using the other hand. Rub as well the tip of your fingers on the palm of the other hand.
5. Rinse your hands thoroughly with running water (again, the temperature doesn´t matter).
6. Dry them completely. If possible, with a disposable towel, and use the towel to turn off the tap.
Steps for washing your hands
In most situations, soap and water will be enough to get rid of germs but, what if they are not readily available? Then we can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if it contains no less than 60% alcohol. Take a look at the product label to check the percentage. It will quickly reduce the number of germs although it will not eliminate all types of them, and it won´t be as effective if your hands are clearly dirty. In order to use alcohol-based handrub correctly, apply the right amount (see the label) to the palm of one hand and rub it over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until they are dry. Do not wipe your hands after using hand sanitizer.
You have probably read or heard that you should wash your hands many times every day. It is absolutely not an exaggeration. When should you do it?
- As soon as you get home, in order to avoid contaminating any surface,
- Before eating food, and before, during and after handling it,
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea,
- Before and after treating cuts or wounds,
- After using the toilet,
- After changing a nappy or cleaning up a child,
- After coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose,
- After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste,
- After handling pet food or cleaning pet cages,
- After touching garbage.
Some Prevention and Control Measures
- Keep 1 to 2 meters of distance with people when talking
COVID-19 is transmitted via droplets that can fly up to 1 to 2 meters in the air before falling. Keep in mind that this distance is increased significantly when sneezing and coughing.
- Go to work on foot or by bike
Teleworking is recommendable for those posts amenable to it, but if you have to go to your workplace, avoid public transport, at least during peak hours. Take the stairs if possible. If not, avoid touching items in the elevator and keep enough distance with other people.
- At the workplace
Disinfect public areas and objects, such as your keyboard, door handles, etc. Open windows frequently to ventilate the room, but make sure you don´t get cold. Switch off central air-conditioning or switch to fresh air mode.
- Avoid face-to-face contact
Use online communication tools to hold video conferences instead of face-to-face meetings. If you have lunch in the company canteen, avoid peak hours and ask for take out if possible. Do not sit face-to-face with others.
- Stay at home
Do not attend parties or group activities. Bars, cinemas, gyms and malls will probably be closed in severe situations, but avoid going if they are not. Keep in mind that reducing your social life will also reduce your chances of getting infected.
- Again, wash your hands
We said it before but we will never get tired of reminding it since personal hygiene is crucial to curtail the expansion of the disease. Do it as well after pressing elevator buttons or handling cash, and do not touch your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands.
- If you have the symptoms
First of all, don´t panic. Researchers are still learning about it, but eighty percent of the people infected have minor symptoms and don´t actually require any medical care at all. If you are worried because you have symptoms that seem to match those of the coronavirus, do not hurry to the hospital. Stay calm and pick up the phone to call your health care provider. Experts say that not everyone needs to be tested. The majority of cases are mild and the doctor might be able to give you advice on how to treat your symptoms at home. In more serious cases, the hospital will benefit from advance notice of your arrival.
Wearing masks: who, when, why
You have probably seen it in the news. Thousands of people in Asian countries wearing masks and respirators of all types. Different shapes and designs, colors and sizes. Are they really effective or necessary? If so, who should be wearing them? And when?
Wearing face masks in public is common in East Asian countries. People find the reassuring and, during the outbreak, it is compulsory to wear one for entering some public spaces like supermarkets.
First of all, we need to know the difference between face masks and respirators. It´s easy to confuse them, because they look similar and both terms are often used indistinctly when discussing respiratory protection. They are two types of personal protective equipment that play an important role in preventing exposures to different types of hazards. However, there are important differences between them.
Face masks are loose-fitting disposable masks that cover nose and mouth. The most common type of facemasks are surgical masks, although not all facemasks are regulated as surgical masks. They help stop large droplets from being spread by their wearers. They also keep splashes or sprays from reaching the mouth and nose of the person wearing them. But they are not designed to seal tightly against the face and they do not prevent small airborne contaminants from being inhaled.
Therefore, face masks do not provide respiratory protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend people who are well to wear a facemask to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Respirators, by contrast, are designed to reduce the wearer´s exposure to airborne particles by providing a tight seal to the face, forcing inhaled air to pass through the filter material and not through gasps between the face and the respirator. Among them, N95 respirators filter out at least 95% of large and small particles in the air. When correctly fitted, the filtration capabilities of N95 respirators amply exceed those of face masks. For that reason, N95 respirators must be used when contacting people with suspected respiratory infections.
* N95 is the American standard used by the CDC, among others. Europe uses the Filtering Face Piece (FFP) score. Under this standard, the closest equivalent to N95 would be FFP2, with 94% filter capacity.
In the same way as with surgical masks, the CDC and the WHO do not recommend the routine use of respirators outside the workplace settings.
But masks and respirators are indeed useful in some cases:
- If you have cough, fever and difficulty breathing, do wear a mask and seek medical care.
- If you are taking care of someone who may be infected and you are in the same room with that person.
- If you are in zones particularly affected.
- In addition, wearing a mask can be helpful for providing a physical barrier against touching the nose or the mouth.
Always keep in mind that masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning, and do not re-use single-use masks.
In sum, it is not recommended to wear masks for those who have no symptoms, unless they are in close or long-term contact with people infected. Keeping a good personal hygiene, reducing personal contact and staying away from crowded places have proven to be more effective measures to avoid getting infected. Since the severity of the situation differs from country to country, follow the guidelines and advice indicated by the government and health authorities.
Myths: true or false
It has been all over the news since almost the beginning of the year. Researchers and Institutions from many countries are racing against time, trying to develop vaccinations. Day by day, we get to know COVID-19 a little more, how it acts and how we can fight it effectively. But it is a new virus, there are still a lot of things we don´t know about it. Different hoaxes and rumors appear every day on social media, causing misunderstandings and confusion. Let´s take a look at a few of them:
- Can people get infected by receiving parcels from China or other regions?
Since the outbreak started in China, base of the famous e-commerce platform AliExpress, this has been a recurring rumor from the beginning. It is false. Coronaviruses might be attached to the packaging of delivered items, but they do not survive long on objects like letters or packages exposed to different conditions and temperatures. So, feel free to continue buying goods and receiving parcels, you will not get infected through them.
- Can sun exposure kill the virus?
Then again, no. Sunlight does not reach a temperature high enough to kill the virus. The virus dies in 30 minutes at 56 degrees, or in 20 minutes at 65 degrees (which is why we must thoroughly cook food to make sure it is safe to eat). In a similar way, the ultraviolet rays in the sunlight will not kill the virus. Hand dryers are not effective either.
- A hot bath does not prevent the disease
Our normal body temperature remains around 36.5 °C to 37 °C regardless of the external temperature of the bath or shower. Actually, a bath or shower with extremely hot water could burn your skin. By frequently washing your hands, you can eliminate viruses and avoid infection that could occur by then touching your mouth, nose and eyes.
- Will I get COVID-19 if bitten by a mosquito?
You won´t. It is a respiratory virus that spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or generated when coughing or sneezing. The World Health Organization states that, to date, there is no information or evidence to suggest that the coronavirus could be transmitted by mosquitoes.
- Eating garlic will not help
You might have seen in the news that supermarkets run out of garlic as soon as the first person gets infected in a given region. No use at all. Garlic is healthy and may have some antimicrobial properties but there is no evidence that it can protect people from COVID-19. If only it was that easy...