With the coronavirus rattling nerves around the globe, it seems like a good idea to review a few basics about surviving the next couple of months. Although we're going to go much more in depth, the lesson itself is pretty simple: stop touching your face!
As per a study conducted in 2008, it's estimated that most people touch their own face some 16 times an hour. This is not good - touching your face may exponentially raise the chance of infection by certain microbes, with viruses posing a specific threat. The lining around the eyes and mouth are composed of vascular membranes; these membranes are connected quite intimately with blood vessels throughout the body. When you consider what our hands come in contact with on a daily basis, and how often and how thoroughly we clean them, it's no surprise to find that our hands can be vectors of disease, with our eyes and mouths serving as the site for infection.
According to experts, covering your hands with plastic or rubber gloves can help wean you off of touching your face. Eyes and noses become itchy and beg to be scratched. We wipe our mouths with our hands subconsciously. It's a deeply ingrained habit to touch your face, but while breaking it won't be easy, you'll be at an advantage to stay healthier.
The virus, labeled as COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2, is airborne and can cling to surfaces. The coronavirus is currently thought to be able to remain intact on most surfaces for three to four days before expiring. This can turn outtings into a guessing game.
The infection spreads between people when virus-laden droplets enter the air (i.e. sneezing) and are inhaled by a new person. Thanks to medical masks, there is a chance that such a respiratory infection can be prevented. Bear in mind that some outlets have reported that the virus is spreading through the membranes of our eyes, and that masks may therefore may not be useful.
According to another experiment in 2015, over two dozen medical students in Australia were observed and found to have touched their own faces 23 times every hour, on average. Half of those instances of touching involved the places where we've discussed increased odds of infection!
These kinds of ticks are impressively common, especially at work. Shaking your foot, toying with your hair, touching your face. These activities keep you awake and focused for the duration of tedious tasks such as meetings and conference calls. So what do you do if you can't help yourself?
Wash Your Hands
The importance of washing your hands cannot be understated. If you're doing it right, it will take about twenty seconds from start to finish. Let's take a closer look at the steps involved:
Wet your hands with piping hot water.
Lather up. Cover every inch of your hands with soap.
Scrub. This should take up the bulk of your time at the sink. Some people like to sing a little song, like "Happy Birthday." It's common for people to neglect their thumbs while washing, so don't leave them out.
Rinse your hands as thoroughly as you covered them in lather. If they're a little pinker than you remember them being when you started, you're doing something right.
Dry your hands completely. Water can be a solid breeding ground for microorganisms, so don't give them the opportunity.
Even if you've done a good job, the risk of re-contamination almost instantly increases as soon as you leave the sink. You can have an infectious agent back on your hands before you eve leave the room.
Avoid touching unnecessary surfaces on your way out. Some people use visual cues to remind themselves to stay focused. Try using some jewelry or a rubber band to remind you how to handle yourself. They make scented hand sanitizing gels if that doesn't work. The sense of smell is perhaps mostly strongly associated with memory because of the way our brains are structured, so this kind of gel might work incredibly well. Soon you may develop the mental strength to remind yourself periodically not to put your hands on your face.
Viruses Are Tricky
Some viral infections reveal themselves quite quickly through the symptoms they cause, like the flu. Others are more subtle, and hide their presence from our immune systems by skulking around inside our cells for weeks, months, or even years at a time.
Coronavirus seems to be the type of virus that incubates inside of us for a week or two before it's obvious that a patient is sick. That makes it extremely important to prevent infection in the first place. Viruses aren't like bacteria; we don't have nearly as much success trying to eliminate them once they've already established themselves.
We will know that COVID-19 is on its last legs when we have mass-produced an effective vaccine. Until then, the name of the game is staying healthy. One of the best ways to do that is to keep your face as far away as possible from potential sites of infection. In other words, the farther your hands are from your face, the better.