Toni and Ben have been in isolation since early March and have had to find ways of coping with this new ‘normal’ with no outside support from carers or medical practitioners who would normally support Ben 24/7 with his living and medical needs. One of the things that Toni feels very strongly about as we move into the next phase of slowly beginning to break this isolation, is that everyone is reminded of the importance of handwashing; a very small day to day activity that has a massive impact on the spread of not just Covid 19, but all viruses and infections.
Coronavirus is a respiratory illness, meaning it is mostly spread through virus-laden droplets from coughs and sneezes. If you don’t catch your coughs and sneezes in a tissue and safely dispose of it, the virus can end up on surfaces. If someone else touches that contaminated surface, the virus can transfer onto their hand.
If you have the virus on your hands, you can infect yourself by touching your eyes, mouth or nose. You might think that you don’t touch your face very often, but it’s much more than you realise. A 2015 study found that people touch their faces an average of 23 times an hour.
While washing your hands is useful in preventing yourself from getting infected, this is not the main reason the Government recommends it.
Does soap kill coronavirus?
Coronavirus is an ‘enveloped virus’. This means it has a protective outer layer known as a ‘lipid bilayer’. The molecules making up this layer are shaped like a tadpole, with a water-loving (hydrophilic) round head and a water-hating (hydrophobic) tail.
These molecules arrange themselves into a ‘bilayer’: two layers piled on top of each other into a sheet, with tails pointing inwards and heads pointing outwards.
The molecules are pulled closely into each other to protect the hydrophobic tails from the water in your respiratory droplets when you cough or sneeze.
The hydrophilic heads are very ‘sticky’, meaning the virus is very effective at sticking to your hands – perfect for a microbe that’s trying very hard to infect you.
Soap molecules also have this tadpole structure, which is what makes it so useful. When you have something oily on your hands, running water won’t get rid of it. Add soap to your hands – the hydrophobic tail will cling to the oil, and the hydrophilic head will stick to the water. Now, the oil will come straight off.
Because the soap molecules are so similar to the ones making up the outer layer of the virus, the molecules in the lipid bilayer are as strongly attracted to soap molecules as they are to each other.
This disrupts the neatly-ordered shell around the virus, dissolving it in the running water and killing the virus.
Does antibacterial hand sanitiser kill viruses?
Yes. Alcohol-based hand sanitiser will kill viruses if soap and water are not available. Alcohol is an antiseptic and can kill enveloped viruses such as coronavirus, but make sure it contains 60 to 95 per cent alcohol.
However, if your hands are visibly dirty, you need to use soap and running water to clean the dirt off.