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20 Surprising Things That Cause COVID

Don't let one preventable mistake allow COVID-19 into your home.

If your fairy godmother could grant you one wish right now, I know what it would be. Please, wave your magic wand and stop me, and those I love, from getting the coronavirus. Well here's the news. I'm the fairy godmother—well, actually, a fairy goddoctor, I'm an MD—and you can have your wish: Simply never leave your home or open your door. And since that's not practical, at the very least, don't fall victim to one of these surprising things that lead to coronavirus. Read on, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Signs Your Illness is Actually Coronavirus in Disguise.


Don't Have a Neighbor Over, Even if They Are "Self-Isolating"

Two elderly women drinking red wine from glasses, friends communication at home

I rang my old friend and neighbor Sheila last year, for a WhatsApp video call, several days after we'd all been told to self-isolate. She is 76, widowed and lives alone. I thought I would be kind and see how she was. My heart goes out to all those living alone right now as it must be incredibly hard.

"I'm fine dear," she said. "I've got Alison here for her usual gin and tonic," and she swung the camera around so I could see her middle-aged neighbor, Alison, waving, glass in hand! "She's at the other end of the sofa," said Sheila. "Don't worry, I won't catch anything."

I was flabbergasted. Sheila is in the age group which is high risk if she becomes infected. Alison has three teenage girls at home, all of whom have boyfriends. Who knows what's been going on in their house in terms of self-isolation? Any of them could have passed the virus to Alison—who may not know she is carrying it. And there could be virus on the bottles of gin. 10% of people who become infected with COVID-19 get the virus from someone who doesn't know they are infected. 

The Rx: Self-isolation means not having friends round for a gin, a glass of wine, a coffee or anything else. It means what it says—staying isolated, just you, in your own home and no visitors to cross the threshold.


Don't Have a Guilty Toothbrush

couple toothbrush

Are you overcrowded in your home? Does your whole family share one bathroom? Do you use one tooth mug to house all your toothbrushes? COVID-19 is present in saliva, and blood. Plus, it can live outside the body for several days. People infected with COVID-19 continue viral shedding for up to two weeks after a clinical episode of infection. Do not risk your toothbrush becoming contaminated. 

The Rx: The truth is the COVID-19 virus does not get up and spread itself. 100 million viruses can fit on a pin head. It only takes one virus particle to infect you. Put each toothbrush in a separate mug. 


Don't Throw a Birthday Party

You are self-isolating at home. There's an unexpected knock at the front door. Your daughter—who moved out to live with her boyfriend a couple of years ago—stands there smiling. From a six feet vantage point, of course. "Happy Birthday Mom!" 

She lunges forward for a second, and hands you a bunch of flowers which you grasp a bit uncertainly. It's very sweet of her and rude not to take them. They are beautiful flowers. What can be the harm in this? In fact, you've just had hand-to-hand contact with someone who doesn't live under your roof. That's all it takes to transmit an infection. You may have just received a Birthday Day gift you could do without.

The Rx: In one study of people infected with the common rhinovirus, the most common cause of a cold, 65% were shown to have the virus on their hands. 11 out of 15 hand-contacts resulted in viral transmission. Tell your daughter you can have a big birthday party when this is all over.


Don't Use a Public Toilet

white restroom doors

Public toilets are bad news. You don't know who has been in there before you. It could be that someone carrying the virus has sneezed and coughed, got virus all over their hands, then passed these to the toilet seat or the toilet roll. COVID-19 has also been isolated in urine and feces and may be spread via the fecal-oral route—although this is still uncertain. 

The Rx: It's vitally important you wash your hands carefully after you have used the toilet, as you should be doing anyway, but it's even more important right now. (Did you read the ridiculous story about the man who filmed himself licking a toilet seat as part of a coronavirus challenge, and went to the hospital with COVID-19?)


Don't Use Cash in the Supermarket

paying with cash at grocery store

During the COVID-19 pandemic, contactless is the preferred way to make payments.  Although the authorities have not made specific recommendations, virologists report the virus survives on plastic and paper for up to 3 days. It can also survive on certain coins for up to 4 hours. An interesting 2008 study in The Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology showed that the influenza virus, when artificially transferred onto banknotes, could survive for up to 3 days. If the virus was mixed with respiratory mucus, it could survive even longer—up to 17 days. 

The Rx: Until we know the risks for sure, it's best to stay safe and use paperless money.


Don't Wash Your Clothes in Cold Water

Close up of woman hand adjusting washing machine

Many people regularly wash their clothes at 40 degrees as it's more economical. On 14th February 2020, The Journal of Clinical Medicine published the first reports about COVID-19 from the experience in Wuhan City, China. They stated that the virus can be killed by heating to 132 degrees for 30 minutes. 

The Rx: In terms of how to kill a virus, experts now advise you should be doing your washing in hot water. Also wash more regularly, and not allow dirt to pile up on garments.


Don't Just Wipe the Kitchen Worktops with Kitchen Cleaner

Woman cleaning and polishing the kitchen worktop with a spray detergent, housekeeping and hygiene

Hang on, what's wrong with that? Here's the thing—in this time of COVID-19 we all need to question what we do and if we could do it better. Experts recommend you disinfect a surface—you have to scrub hard, not just wipe—according to NBC News. Disinfectant should be in contact with a surface for four minutes. If it's a porous surface the disinfectant needs to penetrate every pore, hence the need to scrub.

The Rx: Soap and water will dislodge the virus and destroy it by disrupting its outer coating. However, to clean surfaces, the best way to kill the virus is with bleach (sodium hypochlorite), ethanol or hydrogen peroxide.

And remember this: The virus survives for: 

  • 3 hours as an aerosol 
  • 4 hours on copper
  • 24 hours on cardboard
  • 2-3 days on plastic, or stainless steel.

According to WebMD, it can also survive on glass for up to 5 days, paper for 5 days, wood (e.g. furniture) for 4 days, and jewelry for 5 days.


Don't Paint Your Long Nails

Nail polish being applied to hand, polish is a blue color

Little is known about the effect of nail polish and nail extensions on the spread of any infecting organism, including COVID-19. More research is needed. However, The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) published 2012 recommendations for the prevention and control of infection for healthcare workers. They are working in clinical settings where infecting organisms are more likely.

The Rx: They recommended fingernails be kept short, clean and free of nail polish. They also recommend a bare below the elbow technique, plus no jewelry or wristwatches, apart from a wedding ring. Any cuts or abrasions should be covered by a waterproof Band-Aid. In many states, the government is forcing nail salons to close down, as they are regarded as "non-essential", and the police will enforce this.


Don't Sign for a Delivery

The doorbell rings and you sprint down the stairs and open the door. The delivery man is standing six feet away with a large parcel. It's that new dress you've been waiting for—whatever lockdown is, it's a great opportunity for internet shopping. 

"I'll just leave it here," says the delivery man, and he puts the parcel down by his feet. "Oh, but I need a signature," and he darts forward proffering a pen. After signing you grab the parcel and run up to your bedroom in a rush to try on your new dress.

The Rx: The virus lives on plastic. It can live on a ballpoint pen for two to three days. Have you just committed a vital error? Why didn't you think of that! When you ordered that dress, maybe you ordered the virus as well. Discard the packaging before you bring it upstairs and wash those hands.


You're Eating a Takeout Pizza Wrong

Female hands taking a slice of pizza from the box on the kitchen table, close up

This is OK, isn't it? Is there any increased risk of COVID-19 from take out food? The risk of getting infected with COVID-19 from a take out is small. 

The Rx: The BBC quoted virologist Professor Sally Bloomfield, who recommends emptying the contents of the packaging into a clean dish, throwing away the packaging, and washing your hands before eating it. She also recommends you use a clean knife and fork to eat and do not eat with your fingers. Professor Bloomfield advises currently ordering hot food is preferable to ordering things that are cold, or raw.


Don't Get Gasoline Without Care

A man's hand holds a filling gun inserted into the hole of a gasoline tank of a car on a gasoline fueling

Don't forget to wear gloves and wash your hands after filling up with gas. After some unsubstantiated claims in the media about the possible danger of COVID-19 on petrol pump handles, authorities were quick to provide reassurance. They said that pumps offer no more chance of exposure than any other surface.

The Rx: Wearing gloves when filling up, and washing hands afterwards, is advised.


Don't Take a Bus Unless You Must

woman with protective mask on her face commuting by bus during virus epidemic.

Public transportation is still running and sometimes you have no choice. However, traveling by public transport has been shown to increase the risk of infection with colds and flu. In a study in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases, the authors compared a group of people who were consulting for an acute respiratory illness with a group consulting for a non-respiratory problem. They found a six-fold increase in the risk of consulting a GP about a respiratory tract illness in those who had traveled by bus or tram in the five days prior to their appointment. All forms of public transport are associated with increased risk. The subway is a particular risk. 

The Rx: Try and walk when you can. Sit in the least crowded area, touch as little as possible and wash your hands as soon as possible, and don't put your hands near your mouth.


Don't Lick an Envelope

Men wearing blue sweater licking envelope

It's second nature to lick an envelope or a stamp. However, this could result in the transmission of infection. COVID-19 survives on cardboard for 24 hours, and plastic for around 3 days, and is also found in saliva. 

The Rx: Until more is known, you are recommended to seal an envelope and stick stamps using a wet cloth. 


Avoid All Crowds—Including at Bars and Funerals

Family in guard of honor at funeral, only torso of people to be seen

Although many states have stopped weddings, christenings and other ceremonies, funerals are still going ahead in certain parts of the world. However, there is confusion as funerals are still social gatherings, which we are currently told to avoid.

The Rx: Wherever possible people are being asked to arrange funerals by telephone. Minimum numbers of people should attend. Video funeral services are an alternative.


Don't Take the Elevator

A woman pushing an elevator button with sleeve nylon down jacket instead of using her hand.

In advance of a publication scheduled for June 2020, a letter in the journal Emerging Infectious Disease is of great interest. The authors studied patterns of transmission of COVID-19 in Wuhan. A cluster of COVID-19 cases were identified, all of whom had visited a particular shopping mall. From their investigations, the authors postulate that the spread of the virus may have been through hard surface transmission such as elevator buttons or restroom taps—although they were subsequently unable to detect the virus on these surfaces.

The Rx: Look for the hand sanitizer in the lobby before you get into the elevator. If it's crowded, don't get in and wait for the next one, or use the stairs. And push the button with your elbow.


Don't Forget to Clean Your Car

woman driving car with face mask

We touch many car surfaces very frequently, notably the steering wheel, gear stick, brake and seat belts. The virus can survive for several days on these surfaces. It also favors a humid environment. There are high levels of humidity inside many cars.

The Rx: Before you ride, wipe it down with a Clorox Disinfecting wipe. 


Admit It—You've Picked Your Nose Once or Twice This Month

Beautiful emotional businessman on a gray background. Silly look. Picking his nose.

Apparently, 91% of people admit they do it! So, you're not alone. Folks sometimes pick their nose when they are bored—and, well, many people are at home 24/7, right now, with not a lot to do! Picking your nose is dangerous because there are always a lot of bacteria and viruses under your nails. It can traumatize the lining of the nose, and this then facilitates the uptake of infecting organisms. One 2018 study in the journal Infectious Disease Advisor showed that 40% of those who had a "wet poke" and 10% of those who had a "dry poke" transmitted the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia—which is the most common cause of community-acquired pneumonia. 

The Rx: If you've got something lodged up there, wash your hands and gently use a tissue, or blow, to remove it. Then wash your hands again.


Reconsider a Visit to the Dentist

female dentist and assistant with dental curing light and mirror treating male patient teeth at dental clinic office

Concern is growing about people needing dental care during the COVID-19 crisis. Mouth drilling is especially high risk as it produces a large amount of aerosol, putting the dentist, other patients and dental staff at risk. If you need to see the dentist, strict measures will be in place to minimize any chance of acquiring COVID-19.

The Rx: While we are in lockdown, it's vital to look after your teeth with regular brushing and flossing, and put off your usual cleaning for a bit longer.


Use Care if Pregnant

doctor in operation room,give birth

One visit to the hospital you can't avoid just now if you are pregnant is going into labor. Women are advised, as usual, to stay at home as long as possible in early labor. The majority of deliveries will be in a hospital setting. If you have been in contact with COVID0-19 or think you may have the virus, you will be tested on arrival in the department. 

The Rx: The good news is that there is no evidence that if you become infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy, this will harm your baby. A vaginal delivery can be anticipated unless there are medical reasons to change the decision. You will still be able to breastfeed. 


Don't Think Face Masks Are a Joke

woman in a protective face mask with a smart phone at the public place

As a doctor, I can say it's not just one big rumor. Authorities such as the CDC and WHO—those we trust to review the medical evidence and make rules to help keep us safe—are saying we need to wear masks to beat the virus.

In April, the CDC issued a recommendation that you should wear a mask when not at home, when mixing with people who do not live in your household, or in situations where social distancing is difficult. (This does not apply to children under age 2, or babies.)


None of This Works Unless We All Do it Together

woman in medical mask stay isolation at home for self quarantine

All the above scenarios are actually happening—across the globe—right now as I'm typing this. I once saw a Facebook video, done by a policeman who is required to stop people and ask why they are out, when they've been told to stay home. He said the most common reasons people give are "boredom," "just don't want to be at home," and "because it's sunny." As a doctor, I'm incredulous. People will die because of their selfishness and stupidity.

The most important message is that the coronavirus doesn't spread itself. It's people who spread the coronavirus. If we want this pandemic to be over, we all need to understand the reasons behind what we've been asked to do—and just do it.

As for yourself: To get through this pandemic without catching coronavirus, don't miss this essential list: Most COVID Patients Did This Before Getting Sick.

Dr. Deborah Lee is a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.

Deborah Lee, MD
Dr. Deborah Lee is a health and medical writer with an emphasis on women's health. Read more about Deborah