Is Handwashing Useful Against Viruses Like COVID-19?
During the coronavirus outbreak, everyone from the media outlets to health organizations like the CDC and WHO have been advising people to wash their hands. People have even made catchy handwashing songs on YouTube!
Well, you’re hearing this advice for good reason. People underestimate the importance of simple actions like washing their hands with soap to protect themselves against viruses.
Handwashing by individual members of the public goes a long way in keeping the whole community healthy.
Viruses like Covid-19 easily transfer to surfaces when you touch them, and are highly contagious. According to researchers, one coronavirus carrier infects an average of 2 people.
Is handwashing useful against viruses like the novel coronavirus, you ask? We’re going to break down the science behind washing your hands and why it’s so effective against microbes like COVID-19.
How Handwashing Helps Stop the Spread of Germs
The primary goal of handwashing is to kill germs and viruses. It’s is important to have clean hands because of how easily viruses can transfer from our hands to our face when we touch it. The virus can enter the body through the nose, mouth and even eyes.
There are two reasons that handwashing is effective:
- Water. Water by itself is helpful in combatting microbes. The physical act of washing hands in running water physically removes dirt and germs. The water makes your hands slippery, making it easier to dislodge small particles.
- Soap. Handwashing is mostly effective against viruses because of soap. Soap molecules attract both water and lipids such as fats and grease. But for the same reason they’re effective against removing grease and oils, they’re also effective against viruses.
How Soap Kills Viruses Like COVID-19
A lot of viruses, including Covid-19, are enclosed in an envelope made up of lipids. When they come into contact with soap molecules, they’re attracted to the lipid envelope. This results in different soap molecules pulling the virus envelope in different directions, which ends up bursting open the virus and killing it.
There is a catch though.
The process of killing viruses in this manner takes time. Most people overlook this fact when they’re washing their hands. According to studies, people spend an average of 6 seconds washing their hands — far too short a time window for killing germs or viruses.
How Effective is Handwashing Against Viruses Like COVID-19?
According to the CDC, the simple act of handwashing can reduce respiratory illnesses like colds and flus by 16-21% in the general population.
In addition to viruses, it also helps against bacterial and fungal diseases. It can reduce the number of people falling ill with diarrhea by 23-40%, for example.
Handwashing is one of the best first line defenses against coronavirus.
If you don’t have access to hand washing facilities, ensure you use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
For detailed information, see these websites:
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration: COVID-19
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Coronavirus
- CDC – Hand Sanitizer Fact Sheet
- CDC – Show me the Science on Hand Sanitizer