Washing Your Hands: Coronavirus’s Biggest Enemy

June 9, 2020
Over the last few days, doctors and scientists have explained why washing your hands is one of the most important ways to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

In recent weeks, fear and misinformation have spread around the world along with the new coronavirus (COVID-19). As a result, doctors, scientists, and health entities have emphasized the importance of practicing preventative measures. Which brings us to coronavirus’s biggest enemy: washing your hands.

Through Twitter, professionals like Alberto Sicilia, a doctor in theoretical physics, and Palli Thordarson, a chemistry professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, have explained why soap is one of the best options against this virus that has the entire planet on alert.

Why is washing your hands coronavirus’s biggest enemy?

Handwashing to prevent coronavirus
The components in soap can dissolve the lipids of the outer membrane of viruses. Therefore, this is an outstanding product when it comes to inactivating these microorganisms.

The above-mentioned professionals explain that, basically, all viruses are “microscopic beings” that need to introduce themselves into human cells. This is the only way that they can multiply, as they are unable to reproduce on their own.

The coronavirus, in particular, is composed of three elements. These are:

  • Genetic material (RNA)
  • Some proteins that allow the virus to attach to human cells
  • A fatty outer membrane that serves for protection. It’s this final element that makes washing your hands with soap the best defense against coronavirus.

The composition of soap includes salts with substances similar to oils, known as amphiphiles. They can have structures similar to the lipids in the membranes of the virus.

Therefore, said molecules come into competition with the membranes of the virus. This helps to dissolve the membrane in order to inactivate these microorganisms. In reality, the virus is not a living thing, but it can remain active outside of the body for hours or even days.

This explains why washing your hands with soap is so important in defending yourself against coronavirus… And not just coronavirus, but many other germs that can cause illness. This is why professionals are so adamant about washing your hands as a preventative measure to keep from spreading this infectious agent that’s causing so much fear.

You may also want to read: Why Is Quarantine Necessary in Cases such as Coronavirus?

Can washing your hands with soap kill coronavirus?

Soap helps to dissolve the fatty outer layer that protects viruses. Therefore, it “falls like a deck of cards and dies”, state the experts. However, as we just pointed out, viruses aren’t actually living things and, therefore, don’t actually die. Rather, they inactivate with the help of soap and proper handwashing.

Dr. Dan McGee, a pediatrician at the Helen DeVos Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, talked about handwashing in an interview with TODAY. According to McGee, “Hand-washing is the second-best way to prevent getting an infection. The first best way is if you get a vaccine — if one is available.”

But, is washing your hands enough? Perhaps not completely. However, scientific research has proven its role in the prevention of infectious diseases. According to an investigation published in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Revisions, handwashing helps slow down the spread of the illness.

What’s more, according to the same source, this habit could reduce the chances of contracting a respiratory illness by 54%. What’s more, it exceeds the effect of any other option. The most recent studies support these facts, including one from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In the study, researchers found that improving the rates of handwashing among travelers that visit 10 of the main airports in the world is a determining factor in reducing the propagation of many illnesses of infectious origin

Soap or hand sanitizer? Which is better?

The effectiveness of antibacterial hand sanitizer.
Many people believe that using hand sanitizer is the best option. But the truth is that it’s not superior to washing your hands when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting your hands. In fact, you can use any type of soap.

Washing your hands meticulously is one of the most important measures in the prevention of infection and the spread of pathogens like coronavirus. However, due to the same fear that has spread worldwide due to this illness, many are under the impression that hand sanitizers are a better defense against the virus.

How much truth is there to this claim? Well, health experts and entities like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) prioritizes the use of soap. To date, there is no evidence to suggest that antibacterial soaps are superior to normal versions of soap in the prevention of illnesses.

However, if you don’t have soap and water, using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can be helpful. What’s more, in places like the workplace, it can be a good idea to have disinfectant wipes. The problem is that people are underestimating the use of soap. At the same time, the use of disinfectants is becoming absurd, to the point that they are becoming excessively expensive.

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Opt for the use of soap

Given all of the above, it’s important to understand that washing your hands with soap is the best option; it’s also much easier to find. In fact, you can use any of its versions: liquid, solid, scented, dish soap, soap made for men, soap made for women… in other words, any form of soap.

What’s most important is that you keep in mind that you should use soap along with water and for at least 20 seconds. What’s more, you should wash your hands as often as necessary, at least 5 times a day. Be sure to rub both hands together and be sure to wash your wrists and in between your fingers as well.

  • Jefferson, T., Del Mar, C. B., Dooley, L., Ferroni, E., Al-Ansary, L. A., Bawazeer, G. A., … Conly, J. M. (2011). Physical interventions to interrupt or reduce the spread of respiratory viruses. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (7). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD006207.pub4
  • Christos Nicolaides, Demetris Avraam, Luis Cueto‐Felgueroso, Marta C. González, Ruben Juanes. Hand‐Hygiene Mitigation Strategies Against Global Disease Spreading through the Air Transportation Network. Risk Analysis, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/risa.13438