COVID-19: Why handwashing with soap, use of hand sanitisers, masks are important
(NAN) When on Dec. 31, 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) informed of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China, not many knew the extent of the devastating impact it would eventually have on the world.
COVID-19, as it was eventually called, was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.
As at April 16, 2020, COVID-19 is presently in 213 countries and territories of the world, with 1,954,724 confirmed cases and 126,140 confirmed deaths, according to the WHO.
“The current evidence indicates that COVID-19 virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets or contact and contact transmission occurs when contaminated hands touch the mucosa of the mouth, nose or eyes.
“The virus can also be transferred from one surface to another by contaminated hands, which facilitates indirect contact transmission.
“Consequently, hand hygiene is extremely important to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“It also interrupts transmission of other viruses and bacteria causing common colds, flu and pneumonia, thus reducing the general burden of disease,’’ the WHO said.
Lending a voice to that, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, during a Zoom meeting on “COVID-19: Reporting the Science, the Hysteria and Risk of Emerging Infectious Diseases’’, organised by the Development Communications (DevComs) Network, elucidated the importance of handwashing with soap.
Tomori, a Nigerian Professor of Virology and Former President, Nigeria Academy of Science (NAS), explained that because of the mixture of the soap which attracts dirt, the tails of the soap molecules are repelled by water and attracted to oils, which attract the dirt.
“The dirt which contains the virus is washed off and dissolves in the water and that is the reason why you need soap to wash your hands.
“Ordinary water would not do that effectively, hence the advice to use soap to wash hands.’’
On the use of Alcohol-based hand sanitiser, Tomori said that the COVID-19 virus has an envelope, a lipid envelope and lipid means oily.
“Alcohol dissolves lipid and that’s why the sanitiser should contain at least 60 per cent of alcohol so that you can use it to dissolve the virus.
“In the process, what you are doing is that you are inactivating the virus by putting alcohol, it removes the virus, exposes it, and once it exposes, it cannot attack,’’ he said.
For facemasks, the virologist said that there were still current debates on whether masks should be worn or not.
“However, ideally a person who is sick should wear mask but there are different kinds of masks; the N-95 is a very good mask, so that when a man coughs into it, the mask would retain the virus and it doesn’t come out.
“Then, particularly for health workers who move closely to patients, they also need masks to prevent them from getting the virus and outside within a large group of people.
“It may also be necessary to wear masks, especially as some people can be COVID-19 positive, without showing the symptoms and they may be sharing the virus.
“So, when you are in a large group of people you are safer if you have your mask on. That will prevent you from inhaling the virus.’’
Tomori also explained that social distancing practice is advisable based on the fact that cough particles, droplets in coughs and sneezes can go up to a metre or a little more than a metre.
“That is why distance should be spaced because if an infected person coughs or sneezes, it won’t get to you if you are not close by, it will drop to the ground and you are protected.
“And also avoiding what is called touching your eyes, nose and mouth is important. The virus enters through the nose, eyes and mouth; so when your hand is contaminated and you use it to touch your eyes, mouth or nose, one gets it.
“When a person who has the disease coughs and the droplets land on a table, container, glass, mouse, computer or anything and someone touches it and it touches the eyes, nose or mouth, chances of getting COVID-19 are high,’’ Tomori said.
The virologist advised people to practice respiratory hygiene, especially by using handkerchief to cover the mouth even when you are not sneezing.
Also, Prof. Osagie Ehanire, during a briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 said the purpose of the mask is to shield one as well as the person opposite.
“This is because if anyone is emitting any kind of droplets or particles through coughing or sneezing, they push out particles and droplets which can travel a certain distance and be able to infect somebody who is less than two meters away.
“That’s why we talk about social distancing.
“That kind of emission also takes place when people are shouting , when they laugh or when they exclaim or even when they sigh or blow the nose.
“So, these emissions, you can capture if you’re wearing a protective barrier, it can even be a scarf you put across your mouth, so that you do not run the risk of being able to share it to someone else or you easily getting it.’’
The health minister, however, said that if one decides to use a face mask, which is not compulsory, it doesn’t have to be hospital, medical or surgical grade mask.
“You can make your own and preferably, your mask can be washable, so you can wash it, preferably with warm water and iron it and re-use.
“We are making that recommendation and also particularly stretching it to those who handle food, food vendors are particularly advised to do that in the interests of their customers.’’ Ehanire said. (NAN)