On December 31st 2019, 27 cases of pneumonia with unknown causes were reported to the World Health Organization and they were first identified in Wuhan city China. On 7th January the causative agent was identified from a throat swab, followed by the first death on January 11th the year after. The condition became too overwhelming that it started to cross borders, nations, continents at a rate no one has ever seen. On January 30th, the WHO officially announced COVID-19 as a global health emergency. And since then, people have been persistently advocated to wash their hands, practice social distancing, avoid mass gatherings, and so on and so forth. In the rapidity of the news propagation, some things remain unclear or raise more questions among the public.
Which is more effective against Covid-19, washing hands with soap, or using hand sanitiser?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is recommended to wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds whenever possible because by doing so, we are reducing all types of germs and chemicals on our hands. But soap and water may not always be available to us, so the next line of defence is using a hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol content to effectively eliminate the viruses and germs present on our hands. Quick recap, water and soap is more effective against Covid-19, but if you don’t have the access, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
To understand why we need to look into the science of Covid-19 and how soap works. Covid-19, a type of coronavirus is made up of a fatty layer that surrounds its contents. Much like oil, the virus easily sticks and clings to the surface of our hands. Soaps of any type have the potential to separate fat molecules and dissolve them in water. What it does to the virus, it literally rips it apart, disintegrating its structure, releasing its contents and washes them away with the water. But, this process takes time, 20 seconds to be precise. Otherwise, the virus will still be present on the creases of our hands and ready to infect us or other people.
Alcohol works in the same way. It gains access to the virus’ fat layer and disintegrates it. But for many reasons, they aren’t always effective. Firstly, we need to use at least a teaspoonful of it for adequate effect, some people would be too reserved to apply the sufficient amount. Secondly, people would wipe them off before they are completely dry, reducing the effectiveness altogether. And thirdly, alcohol sanitizers won’t work on our hands that are too greasy or dirty. This is especially true if we are handling food, dirty items and perhaps gardening, our hands will be so full of dirt and oil that it hinders the alcohol from acting on bacteria and viruses present on our hands.
Going beyond Covid-19, sanitisers may not be too effective in removing harmful chemicals and certain resistant bacteria and viruses, namely, Cryptosporidium, norovirus, and Clostridium difficile. These germs will likely still be present unless people use a large enough volume of alcohol sanitiser and to wait long enough until it has completely dried off.
We are living in unprecedented times and the technological advancement that we were so proud of before are no match at combatting a global-scale pandemic. There are still no proven antidotes or vaccines that can fight Covid-19, ergo, the responsibility of not spreading the virus falls upon each and every one of us. But there are COVID -19 testing kits. Follow adamantly the instructions of the authorities, and play a part in the fight against Covid-19.