Control of COVID-19: It’s in your hands

Published: 3/25/2020 3:39:47 PM

I am not an expert on infectious diseases, but as a nurse practitioner I do have a lot of experience with infection control. Below is a common sense approach to helping to contain the COVID-19 virus, which is, literally, “in your hands!”

Viruses, particularly COVID 19, enter the body through the nose and mouth and possibly the eyes, with their target destination being the lungs. Our goal is to try to do what we can to reduce or even prevent this spread!

NOSE AND RESPIRATORY PASSAGEWAYS: The hairs in the nose act as the first line of defense to trap the virus in the normal nose breathing human.

The second defensive barrier is the cilia, little hair-like projections that line the respiratory tract. These trap the viral particles that have made it past the nose. More importantly, the cilia also propel mucus and debris up and out of the lungs (in the opposite direction) in an attempt to rid the body of the viral particles. This self-cleaning mechanism is called the mucociliary escalator. (probably TMI!). These mechanisms keep the lungs healthy.

MOUTH: The virus can also enter through the mouth. There is not much research on this, but it makes sense that it would be a good idea to brush your teeth and use an antibacterial mouth wash a few times a day.

Make an effort to breathe through your nose, especially at night.

It might help to lightly coat the nares (just inside the nose) with Vaseline to further trap the particles.

HAND WASHING: When washing one’s hands most of us have to physically turn on the faucet, but remember that you are turning the water with your possibly infected hands.

Recommendations:

■ Turn on the water, comfortably warm for comfort, and wet hands.

■ Apply soap generously and start the 20-second count as you scrub your hands. (Most soaps work well, there is no evidence that antibacterial soaps are any better.)

■ Hum as you scrub. Chose one of your favorite 20-second tunes and hum as you scrub.

■ Make sure you include the palms as well as the back of the hands, the wrists and above You can use your finger nails for abrasion.

■ You also wash around your nostrils.

■ Rinse hands thoroughly. Remember you are literally washing the virus down the drain.

■ Dry hands using a paper towel and then use it to turn off the faucet. (the most important step)

■ Discard towel in trash or a nearby toilet.

Next comes the challenge of the contaminated bathroom door knob. You could also use the same paper towel or prop the door ajar by a few inches on the way in and use your elbow when exiting . . . so much for privacy.

HAND SANITIZER: Hand sanitizer is recommended as a second line but many people view it is a more modern, new age, alternative and therefore better. Not true! Most sources agree that sanitizers are not as effective against coronavirus.

STOP SMOKING: Here is that all-important reason to quit that I know you have been looking for!

A chronic smoker is much more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 than most but this is rarely mentioned in the media. Remember those little cilia? Cilia become inactive in the chronic smoker and thus fail to trap the inhaled and harmful viral particles from entering the lungs. Additionally, the escalator is unable to propel the contaminated mucus out of the lungs and bronchial tree so it gets trapped in the lungs, which can lead to pneumonia.

A very important point is that it is not too late to quit because it is estimated that cilia can indeed repair themselves and become active again within a few weeks after ceasing smoking. Smokers should quit as soon as possible in order to increase their chances for surviving the virus if infected.

FRESH AIR: Physical distancing is key. But it must be stressed that those of us who can, should go out and enjoy the great outdoors when possible. Take deep breaths that expand and aerate the lungs, keeping them healthy. Spring is here and windows can be opened allowing fresh, clean air to spill in. Revel in the March winds and spring showers. . . . They are mother nature’s way of cleansing the environment.

And, most importantly, be grateful for what you have every day!

Helen A, Carcio, MS, MEd, is a nurse practitioner who is the director of the Health & Continence Institute and an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts.


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