A Guide to Good Hand Hygiene in the times of COVID-19

May 13, 2020

A Guide to Good Hand Hygiene in the times of COVID-19

A Guide to Good Hand Hygiene in the times of COVID-19

The benefits of washing hands regularly and/or using hand sanitiser are well known, but having a better understanding of what makes them effective and when you should use each one is often overlooked. 

In this guide, we will examine how soap and hand sanitiser work against COVID-19 and how you should use them to limit the spread of the virus. 

What is COVID-19 

COVID-19 is a virus that is named for the protein spikes embedded into the lipid membrane that encloses the genetic material of the virus. This structure helps the virus to stick to surfaces inside and outside your body and the lipid membrane serves to protect the virus’ genetic material. 

Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will experience mild to moderate respiratory illness and recover without requiring special treatment. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness. 

As with other viral respiratory infections like the common cold and flu, COVID-19 is mainly spread when virus-laden droplets from a person’s mouth or nose are transferred to other people. You can also get infected by touching surfaces that are contaminated with the virus and then touching your face, mouth and nose. 

How does Hand Sanitiser work against COVID-19 

Alcohol in hand sanitiser has both hydrophilic and lipophilic properties. The lipophilic property enables it to bind to, and weaken the membrane of COVID-19, causing the essential proteins within the membrane to escape. The hydrophilic property of alcohol allows it to bind to these proteins, causing them to denature, which then kills the virus. 

How does Soap work against COVID-19 

Soaps are very similar to hand sanitisers in their chemical structure, where they too have hydrophilic and lipophilic properties. The lipophilic property of soap is capable of breaking down the COVID-19 membrane and the hydrophilic property simultaneously forms a barrier around the virus fragments, encapsulating them and allowing them to be washed off your hands. 

Suitable Hand Sanitisers for protection against COVID-19 

Hand sanitisers are generally found in three types: foams, gels and liquids. All of them will provide the necessary protection against COVID-19 as long as they are applied liberally and contain at least 60% ethanol or isopropyl* 

*Isopropyl has various names, the most common being isopropanol and 2-propanol

Hand sanitiser can only do its job when it can reach the pathogens. If you have visibly dirty or greasy hands, hand sanitiser will not be effective. 

In order to ensure that your hands are correctly sanitised you must use enough product to adequately cover the entire surface of your hands and allow time for it to dry (30 seconds). 

Suitable Soap for protection against COVID-19 

All soaps that you find in the supermarket aisle are equally effective against COVID-19. 

This applies to liquid, foam or bars of soap. So called “anti-bacterial” soaps are no more effective than regular soap against COVID-19. 

The WHO recommends that you spend 40-60 seconds washing your hands vigorously, to ensure that you have given the soap enough time to break down the virus and to encapsulate the virus fragments. Ensure that you are scrubbing the entire surface of your hands, including under your fingernails. 

Soap is more effective than hand sanitiser in neutralising COVID-19 as it also removes grease and dirt which may be harbouring pathogens that would otherwise not be removed by hand sanitiser

General tips for preventing the spread of COVID-19 

1. Wash/sanitise your hands frequently and carefully 

2. Avoid touching your mouth, nose and face 

3. Avoid personal contact 

4. Don’t share personal items 

5. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze 

6. Clean and disinfect surfaces 

7. Take social distancing seriously 

8. Wear a (homemade) mask 

9. Self-quarantine if sick