From the first week of life, viruses start to inhabit the body. These live in our mucous membranes (nose and mouth) and in our gut. Most viruses are largely not interested in invading human cells – they are there for the bacteria. This microbiome that lives mostly in balance in our bodies is made up of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The truth is, we cannot live without them.
Viruses cannot replicate without the help of other cells. The properties of viruses are such that in order for them to cause damage to our body, they must first reach a place where they can use specific cells to invade and replicate. Their mission is to make more copies of themselves in order to survive. This means that while they are still on our skin (let’s say on our hands) they cannot be active nor dangerous. The aim of cleaning, sanitising, and disinfecting skin and surfaces is to stop the virus from entering our body through our mouth, nose, or eyes.
Cleaning and Disinfecting with Sanitisers
By now we’ve heard much about using hand sanitisers, washing of hands, and disinfecting surfaces. To best protect ourselves and others, it is very important to know how to avoid contamination, how to clean, and when. Sanitising is a term that encompasses both cleaning and disinfecting. It is a method that lowers the number of germs (microorganisms) to a safe level. Cleaning means removing dirt and germs from surfaces – this does not necessarily mean you are killing all the germs, but you are removing some of them and making the surface safer. Disinfection uses chemicals such as alcohol and other biocides for a certain period of time to kill some of the germs.
The golden standard of hand hygiene is hand washing with soap and water, which is more effective than using hand sanitisers to remove certain germs and chemicals. If hands are visibly dirty, the use of hand sanitisers is not sufficient to get them clean. If soap and water are not available, alcohol-based sanitisers containing at least 60% alcohol or other sanitisers containing biocides should be used instead.
Soap and water should be used:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating
- After using the toilet
- After touching garbage or anything that is soiled
- After touching an animal, its food or its waste
- Before and after caring for someone who is unwell
- After changing nappies or cleaning up a child who has used the bathroom
- After coming into contact with high touch areas
- After sneezing, coughing, or blowing one’s nose
Soap and water (warm or cold) are effective if all areas of the hands are cleaned carefully over 20 seconds of more. This is the time it takes to hum the song ‘happy birthday’ twice.
Hand sanitisers are convenient to use when soap and water are not readily available. For example when you’re constantly on the go and encountering high touch areas. In order to properly benefit from using hand sanitisers, you must rub the disinfectant on all areas of your hands (as though you are washing them) for at least 20 seconds and until your hands are dry. You must not wipe off or rinse the hand sanitiser.
High touch areas are places that are handled often and by different people, for example landline phones, elevator buttons, shared workspaces or countertops, door handles, and rails. These need to be wiped clean between uses, ideally with a fast acting sanitizing wipe.
Staying mindful of the surfaces we touch and how our hands may be the vehicles that bring microorganisms to our faces are key components in staying healthy. Sanitising surfaces and our hands remains a top priority in keeping ourselves and others safe!
How ‘good’ viruses may influence Health. Medical News Today. January 2020. Accessed at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327167
Hand Sanitizer Use Out and About. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 10, 2020. Accessed at: https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/hand-sanitizer-use.html