I appreciate a lot has unfolded since the last time I wrote on here. Most importantly, the World Health Organisation has declared Covid-19 a pandemic. For more on why I think they took their time to make this decision, check out my previous post here.
Setting the self-promotion aside, the World Health Organisation officially declared Covid-19 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on 30 January 2020. This declaration was taken further on 11 March 2020 when the World Health Organisation declared it a pandemic.
Since this declaration, countries have globally taken serious measures to prevent the contagion of this novel virus. This includes setting a lot of trade and travel restrictions internationally, as well as domestic measures for like isolation, quarantine and shielding. A number of countries have also completely closed down except for essentials like grocery shops and pharmacies. In the UK, we are currently permitted to go out to leave the house to:
– Buy basic necessities like food and medicine
– Exercise once a day
– To visit the doctor or to provide care/help a vulnerable person
– Travel to and from work (mainly for previously announced key workers
Despite these vigorous measures, the preventative advice for the public has been the same – Wash your hands often. Wash them for 20 seconds (at least). Wash them to happy birthday sung twice etcetera etcetera. In addition to loads of hand washing/sanitising advice, we are asked to take respiratory precautions, not touch our eyes, nose and face (which seems rather impossible), self-isolating if you show symptoms, and more recently, social distancing for all. If there are measures put in place where you are, please continue to pay heed to advise on hand-washing, and in addition to that PLEASE STAY HOME!
In this article, I would like to bring the focus on hand-washing and explain why it works against viruses. For a better understanding of viruses, please check out my previous post here. First and foremost – let me reiterate the effectiveness of hand-washing and also clear out all doubts:
Hand-washing is the STRONGEST and MOST EFFECTIVE prevention measure we have against Covid-19 causing novel coronavirus (officially named SARS-CoV-2).
It is because of the structure of SARS-CoV-2 that soap is effective in inactivating/destroying a virus. As I have mentioned in my previous post, like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 too is like a capsule. It has an outer envelope (the capsule) with sugars and proteins stored inside. In addition to this, the capsule is somewhat spiky with pointy edges jutting out. These spikes enable the virus to communicate and connect with specific cells in the lungs (like a lock and key, where each key is specific to the lock it opens). For a visual representation of the virus, click here for a wonderful illustration by the Economist. Once the virus is able to achieve communication, they command cells within our lungs to allow them entry eventually taking control of the entire cell. They can now use our lung cells’ machinery and ammunition, essentially to mass-produce virus parts and construct them together. Eventually we produce so many viruses within the lung cells, that they eventually burst – as do balloons filled with too much air.
However, the mass-production of these viruses render them somewhat “weak”. Their particles are not held “tightly together”, and can therefore easily be de-constructed. This is because the capsule of the virus is made from a lipid membrane which, simply put is a number of lipids molecules come together. Lipids are like oils, insoluble in water. For this reason, soap works against them.
Soap is able to clean oils and dirt because it is able to bind tightly and competitively with both water-soluble (hydrophilic) and water-insoluble (hydrophobic) molecules. What this does, in essence, is causes a “tug-of-war” match between all the molecules, where soap is the strong mighty candidate that always wins. It is able to bind with: on one end, water and on the other end, oils. This breaks up the “togetherness” of the lipids on the viral capsule membrane dispersing them into little fragments of oil and soap called micelles.
Think of it, when you’re washing up greasy dishes with water alone, you are 9 times out of 10 still able to see the oily layer on your dishes. But as soon as you bring some soap and a sponge to that equation, the oil essentially washes off. In a similar fashion, the lipid molecules on the surface of the viral capsule breaks down further on contact with soap – thereby making it ineffective, destroying the bonds within the capsule and unravelling the entire virus.
So guys – SOAP WORKS!
Governments are putting in money to ensure the message of hand-washing is communicated to everyone possible. In the UK, a public health hand-washing campaign has cost the government millions of pounds. In India, the government has requested all phone companies to replace all caller tunes to explain coronavirus and hand-washing for every call placed in the country. A number of other countries are also doing all they can to promote hand hygiene as a preventative measure against Covid-19.
So basically guys, to end this post – be a superhero, wash your hands to the happy birthday song twice. If like me you prefer another song, check out this cool link that will generate a hand-washing infographic based on your favourite song – just put in the details of your song and hit enter.
Other than that, take all preventative measures you possibly can. I have covered precautionary measures in a previous post that you can find here. Follow governmental advice where you are. Keep in the know! And most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough, stay home!!!