Coronavirus is here
The new coronavirus that causes a disease known as Covid-19 continues to march across the globe. More than 120,000 cases have been recorded and governments are taking drastic measures to shut down the spread and try to protect those who are most vulnerable to the respiratory disease. In the virus’s wake come fast and furious messages about how people can protect themselves against infection. Where better to take a lesson than from the doctors and other healthcare professionals on the front lines?
For the most part, these are the same things doctors and others do every day in the hospital, and many of the same things all of us should be doing. “We’re practising what’s tried and true,” says Dr Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine specialist. “Most of my colleagues are still going about their business and practising effective cough and respiratory etiquette.”
Here’s what doctors and other healthcare professionals are doing to protect themselves and others.
Washing their hands
No one – but no one – escapes the mandate to wash, wash, wash your hands, including and especially healthcare providers. That means everywhere and all the time. “It’s the number one precaution,” says Dr Natasha Bhuyan, family practice physician. “That means soap and water for 20 seconds and getting underneath the fingernails and the backs of your hands. All my cuticles are dry and cracked.”
Dr Bhuyan washes her hands pretty much every time she enters a new environment: going into her house, a friend’s house, the grocery store. If she doesn’t have access to soap and water, she uses an alcohol-based sanitiser that she carries with her. Just make sure you’re doing it properly – here are ways people wash their hands wrong.
Keeping hands away from their face
Doctors have just as much trouble not touching their faces as the rest of us. A 2015 study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that a group of Australian medical students touched their faces an average of 23 times per hour, 44 per cent of the time this involved contact with a mucous membrane. Extrapolate those numbers to a 15-hour day and you’re talking 345 chances to infect yourself with a virus.
Healthcare professionals will tell you that’s like putting out a welcome mat for germs. Viruses often enter the body through the nose, mouth and other mucous membranes. If a person has coronavirus on their hands then touches their face, the virus has easy access to the respiratory system. Eyes, too, can be an entry point, points out a study in the February 6, 2020 issue of The Lancet, so avoid touching them with unwashed hands as well. How can people break such an ingrained habit? Dr Bhuyan is trying to be mindful, adding that it’s more of an issue in public settings.