Do hand sanitizers work?
With flu season in full swing in the north and coronavirus spreading in the East, I wanted to spend a little more time on things we can do to lower our risk of infection. So this week I was able to ask Professor Kelly Reynolds from Arizona State University a few important questions. She recently published a study on how alcohol sanitizers kill norovirus (causes gastro) and has worked in the area of disease control for 30 years. Her answers were very helpful and wanted to share them with you in this week’s digest.
The key thing I learnt was making sure we purchase hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol and put enough over our hands to stay wet for 30-seconds.
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Are alcohol sanitizers effective against viruses like coronavirus?
Near Certain. Properly formulated alcohol hand sanitizers are effective against viruses like coronavirus. The coronavirus is a single-stranded RNA virus with an external envelope. Destruction of the envelope effectively reduces the viruses ability to infect host cells. Hand sanitizer products with at least 60% alcohol are recommended for maximum efficacy. Consumers should be sure to use enough product for hands to stay wet for a full 30 seconds.
Are face masks effective?
Unlikely. Face masks are generally not recommended for healthy individuals as a means to avoid the risk of infection unless you are a healthcare worker or someone caring for a sick individual.
Masks are likely not effective without the use of other infection control measures, such as frequent handwashing, and may even increase exposure if improperly handled or re-used. (Read here full answer explaining the different types of masks here)
What are fomites and are they important in spreading viruses?
Near Certain. Fomites, or inanimate objects (like doorknobs, benches, elevator buttons etc), are important in spreading respiratory viruses. Most of us are aware that respiratory viruses can be spread through aerosols generated by the coughing or sneezing of infected individuals. Standing within 6 feet of someone for prolonged periods of time who are shedding infectious viruses increases your risk of secondary infection. Aerosols from coughing and sneezing may also deposit on fomites where they can remain infectious for hours to days. People who touch these contaminated surfaces may also be at increased risk of secondary infection via subsequent contact with their mucous membranes (i.e., eyes, nose and mouth) which acts as the portal of exposure into the body.
Common household sanitizers and disinfectants can significantly reduce concentrations of viruses on fomites and break the cycle of infection transmission. Handwashing with soap and water in combination with the disinfection of commonly touched surfaces and isolation of sick individuals are effective infection control strategies in the home.
Are there ways to lower your risk of getting coronavirus?
Near Certain. Basic hygiene and infection control protocols that are recommended for the common cold and influenza prevention are also effective against the coronavirus. Avoid travel to endemic regions and individuals who are symptomatic for respiratory infections, wash hands frequently and use surface disinfectants routinely on commonly touched surfaces.
As I wrote previously on the coronavirus, the flu has killed over 8000 people in the US alone this season, so these basic hygiene methods will help us avoid getting sick from infectious diseases in general. You may be asking, can we be too clean? Doesn’t our immune system need exposure to bacteria and viruses to work well? That is something I’m going to explore next week with a number of immunologists.
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