I'm a Doctor and Warn You Could Catch COVID Touching This
In a pandemic, 20% of the population cause 80% of infections. It's a shocking statistic! I certainly don't want to be one of this 20%—do you? How likely are you to become infected with COVID-19, transmit the infection to other people, or even become a super-spreader? One practical way to reduce all these chances to think hard about what you touch during the day, and what you do with your hands. Read on and find out my top ten all about what not to touch, to stay safe, protect yourself and those you love, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
It's All About Your Hands
The COVID-19 virus, clever as it is, doesn't jump and enter the body all by itself. There are two ways it can get inside you. You either breathe COVID-infected air down into your own lungs, or, you place your own virus-infected hands up to touch your mouth, nose, and eyes, and physically deposit the virus particles inside your mucous membranes yourself.
"The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person," reports the CDC. "Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this isn't thought to be the main way the virus spreads."
Your hands are one of the most important vectors of transmission. What you do with your hands is fundamental.
The virus is tiny—there are 100 million invisible viruses on a pinhead! Only a tiny amount of virus could potentially infect you.
How to Look After Your Own Hands
- Wash your hands for 60 seconds carefully with soap and water before and after you go outside, for example—visit the supermarket, the pharmacy, the doctor's surgery, a bar or restaurant, or even to meet up with a friend.
- Dry your hands after washing, preferably on a disposable paper towel.
- Handwashing is better than using a sanitizer gel which should be used as an alternative if you are out.
- Disposable gloves are an option, however, these carry viruses too, and need to be disposed of, so hand washing is preferable.
- With people not in your household—don't shake hands, hold hands, hug, embrace. Don't, stroke or touch someone else's face—a high five will do instead.
- Don't reach out and touch someone else's possessions, for example, don't borrow a mobile phone or a laptop, which someone else has touched. The virus lives on these surfaces.
- Don't share cups, mugs, eating utensils, or food such as fries, popcorn, or hamburgers, all of which other people have touched with their fingers then put in their mouths.
- The highest risk will be from people who are currently infected with COVID-19 and should be in quarantine. Also, stay away completely from people who have been in contact with the virus and are self-isolating or waiting for test results.
- For advice on hand washing, visit the CDC – When and how to wash your hands
It's Also All About Your Face
The virus gets inside your body through your mouth, nose, or eyes, so even if it is on your hands, it can't infect you unless it can gain entry via these sites.
- Stop touching your face—this is hard, but be aware of it and even sit on your hands if you need to.
- Try not to rub your eyes, continuously swipe your hair out of your eyes, fiddle with your beard, squeeze spots, or pick your nose!
- Please wear a face mask when you are out in a public place, or anywhere crowded where you cannot keep a good 6-feet away from other people. Studies suggest this is better at preventing the spread of the infection, than stopping you from catching it, but surely, we all want to protect other people. The presence of the mask means you cannot put fingers in your mouth.
- Your mask needs to be clean. You should always put it on and remove it using the straps at the side and put it on the same way round. You should wash your mask regularly – preferably every day.
- Never touch or share, someone else's face mask, or visor.
Let's Focus on Your Mouth
There are many things we put in our mouths as matter of course and don't think about. However, each time we put these things in our mouths and remove them we contaminate our hands, with secretions from the nose and mouth in our saliva.
If you need to do these things, wash your hands carefully before and after. Ideally, if they are not essential—don't do them.
- Take care when inserting and removing mouth braces, dentures, mouthguards,
- Don't share toothbrushes, toothpaste, any other dental hygiene products, lip balm, or lipstick
- Don't share whistles, help blow up balloons, drinking straws
- Don't blow into/share some else's musical instruments
- Don't play drinking games or share beer glasses or shots.
- Don't share cigarettes, vaping devices of joints.
- Do you really need that chewing gum?
We used to hop on and hop off the bus or the subway without a second thought. But now COVID virus particles are known to be lurking on handrails, doorknobs, commuting rails, escalator rails, seat covers and lift buttons.
- From the moment you leave your home, touch as little as possible.
- Wash your hands before and after every journey, wear a mask, and don't touch your face. Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket and use it often. (Disposable gloves can also carry the virus, and need to be disposed of, which is not environmentally friendly.)
- Keep away from others as far as is possible – sit in the far corner.
- Don't sit near anyone coughing or sneezing, or not wearing a mask.
- Travel at off-peak times when possible.
- Choose the less busy routes when you can.
- Walk whenever possible.
- If you get in a taxi, the taxi driver should be wearing a mask. Sanitize your hands before and after getting in the taxi.
Don't Share Mobile Phones or Laptops
How often did we lean over at work and tap on a colleague's laptop, or ask someone if we could quickly borrow their phone? Well—this should no longer be the case.
COVID can live on plastic and glass for several days. In one 2017 study, 27 mobile phones belonging to secondary school pupils were tested for the presence of bacteria. The authors found that most commonly, there were over 17,000 bacteria, including some potentially pathogenic bacteria, on each phone! Plus, the average phone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day!
- Don't share a mobile phone or a laptop
- If you do have to borrow or share a device, wash your hands carefully before and after, or sanitize if this is not possible.
- Keep your own mobile phone and laptop clean. When did you last disinfect your phone or keyboard?
How to Clean Your Mobile Phone or Laptop
To clean your phone or laptop, firstly unplug the device and switch it off. Use a 70% alcohol, either as an alcohol wipe or use a micro-fiber pad dipped in a 70% solution. Using a wipe-on solution is probably preferable to sprays which could get inside and damage your device.
Don't use baby wipes, make-up remover, vinegar, or soap. Don't completely submerge your device in water. Leave it to dry before you switch it on again.
The CDC recommends you clean your phone every day, or more often if you have lent it to someone else, dropped it, or used it in a contaminated area.
Ditch the Cash – Go Contactless
Harmful bacteria from the gastrointestinal and respiratory tract, such as E.coli and S.Aureus, have been identified on banknotes. The notes are made from cotton fibers mixed with polymers to strengthen them and appear to be a good medium for the growth and transmission of some microorganisms.
In one 2008 experimental study, influenza A, inoculated onto banknotes, survived for 3 days. Alarmingly, when mixed with respiratory mucus, virus survival increased to 17 days. The authors concluded that during a flu pandemic, the contribution of transmission from banknotes should not be ignored.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese were sterilizing cash particularly from high-risk sites such as hospitals and markets, using ultraviolet radiation.
- Use contactless payments where possible.
- The keypad at the checkout aisle is particularly high risk as large numbers of people touch this every day. Wipe the keypad if possible before touching it with a sanitizer wipe. If you can't do this, wash your hands carefully immediately afterwards.
Life at the Office
Viruses have been shown to spread incredibly fast in an office environment.
In 2014, The American Society of Microbiology set up a research study. They introduced a harmless virus to an office by inoculating it onto a doorknob and a tabletop. Within 2-4 hours the virus was detected in 40-60% of other offices areas such as light switches, coffee pots, sink tap handles, phones, and computer equipment.
When the office workers were given disinfectant wipes, the number of sites where the virus had been detected was reduced by 80%, and the concentration of these viruses was reduced by >99%.
- Work from home when possible.
- At the office, keep washing your hands, and using hand sanitizer.
- Wear a mask. This not only helps reduce viral spread but helps top you putting your hands in your mouth.
- Keep your work environment clean. Don't share your computer or computer space. Use 70% alcohol wipes frequently.
Avoid Public Toilets
We know COVID-19 causes gastrointestinal symptoms, and that it has been isolated in faeces. When you use a public toilet, which someone else has recently used, there is a risk you could become infected.
This is because the CVID virus particles have settled in the bowl or rim of the toilet. When you flush the chain, the vortex of water creates an immediate plume of aerosol containing these particles, which can spew up to 3 feet in the air. As you stand there, doing up your trousers, you may well be inhaling the virus.
- Only use a public toilet if you really can't hold on any longer. Touch as little as possible.
- Check it looks clean, that there is a soap dispenser and adequate ventilation. Leave 10 minutes between you and the last person in there, to allow any aerosol to settle.
- Wash your hands before and after using the toilet, and after touching the toilet seat.
- Dry your hands on a disposable paper towel.
- Close the toilet lid before you flush the chain – and then wash your hands.
- Don't stand over the toilet when it's flushing.
High-Risk at the Gym
Just when we all need to be fit and losing weight, the gym remains sadly a risky place to go.
This is because when you exercise, you start to breathe more rapidly and deeply. This means you are exhaling larger quantities of respiratory droplets. Anyone exercising in the vicinity, is more likely to breathe these in, increasing their chance of becoming infected.
But it's not just the breathing. It's the fact the respiratory droplets fall out of the air and settle on the equipment. They can survive there for long periods on plastic, glass, and metal. Gyms are trying hard to put strict infection control measures in place. But so far, no one knows how effective these will be.
In South Korea, a COVID outbreak was traced back to a specific dance workshop, attended by 27 dance instructors. These dance instructors, unaware they were infected, then unknowingly infected 54 dance students. 63 of the dance students' contacts then tested positive. A further 34 of their contacts then also tested positive.
- If you go to a gym check which infection control measures are in place.
- Make sure you book a slot and keep your distance from other people.
- Wear a mask.
- Wash your hands before and after using the gym, and regularly use hand sanitizer.
- If you can, shower at home and avoid using the changing facilities, toilets, and showers.
A Few Odds and Ends
Miscellaneous No-Touch Tips
- Avoid touching other peoples' pets. It's rare, but they can carry COVID-19 on their fur.
- Don't shake out dirty laundry. This may cause viral particles to rise into the air, ready to be inhaled. Put dirty laundry flat into the washing machine, then wash your hands. Wash at 60 degrees to kill COVID.
- Only visit the doctor's surgery, or the hospital when necessary. When you do go, think ahead. Wash your hands before you go and when you get home. Wear a mask. Don't remove it while you are there or touch your face. Touch as little as possible in the surgery. Order your medication online and get as much at any one time as you can to avoid repeat consultations/visits.
- Beards are not good news for COVID infection. One reason for this is that all face masks fit less snugly because of the increase in facial hair. Also, if you get food in your beard, you will need to keep cleaning it and touching it. Bear this in mind.
- Try not to fiddle with your hair or your glasses. Tie your hair back. Leave your glasses on your nose!
I'm quite a touchy-feely sort of person myself. I haven't even been able to hug my (grown-up) children since March. COVID-19 has changed everything we do—our family life, our social lives, even a trip to the supermarket is regimented.
However, this is the eye of the storm. It can only get better. And it will get better faster when we all start conducting our everyday lives—hands-free! And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Dr Deborah Lee is a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.