Mucous membranes on the face help transfer the virus from our hands to inside our bodies.(Getty Images)
Mucous membranes on the face help transfer the virus from our hands to inside our bodies.(Getty Images)

How not touching your face can protect your from coronavirus

From your hands to your face, and then your blood stream - the possible way of being infected
Hindustan Times | By Poulomi Banerjee
UPDATED ON MAR 08, 2020 12:41 PM IST

If you have been obsessively reading about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) – from China to across the world and India – and especially about how it is transmitted and how to check infection, you’ve probably read reports which warned people against frequently touching the face, among other preventive measures.

An article published in Forbes, refers to studies published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene and the American Journal of Infection Control which suggest that on an average, people touch their faces approximately 16 to 23 times in an hour. “Most people touch their faces mindlessly,” explains New York-based psychotherapist and author of Fragile Power, Paul Hokemeyer, in a report published in HuffPost. “They rub their eyes or grab their lips when they’re confused. They bite their fingernails when they’re nervous. The central feature of these actions is that they occur below the level of our conscious mind and evolve from the most primitive part of our biology known as the limbic system.”

For the sake of remaining healthy – and protecting ourselves from the dreaded coronavirus – it’s time to consciously monitor our hand movements. It might help if we know how the virus enters our bodies through the face.

How COVID-19 Spreads

“The coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets,” says Vikram Jaggi, director, Asthma, Chest & Allergy Centre, New Delhi. When people cough or sneeze, they let out small liquid droplets. If the person is already infected with coronavirus, the droplets may contain the virus. If others are in close proximity, they may inhale the infected droplets.

There are other ways of getting infected. The virus doesn’t stay suspended in air, but settles down on nearby surfaces – for instance, a table top, door handle, computer keyboard or fabrics – and may survive there for hours. When anyone else touches the infected surface, their hands can pick up the virus.

How It’s Transferred From Your Hands

“The risk in touching the face in this case, is not because of possible germs on the face, but because the face may help transfer the virus from your hand to inside your body,” says Srikant Sharma, senior consultant, department of internal medicines, Moolchand Medcity, Delhi.

Mucous membranes (present in the eyes, nose and mouth) have cells which help absorption. So the minute you touch your face, after touching an infected surface, the virus can enter the blood stream through the mucous membranes and cause infections.

Dos and Don’ts

1. No rubbing of eyes, scratching of ears or nose, biting your nails or pinching your lips.

2. Psychologists suggest that keeping the hands engaged – like holding a stress ball – can help break the habit of unconsciously touching the face.

3. Wash your hands well, and frequently. Or use alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

4. Wearing a face mask protects you not just against inhaling the virus if someone coughs or sneezes, but also stops you from touching your face, says Jaggi.

Not Just Coronavirus

“Most respiratory tract infections, like bronchitis or flu or throat infections, get transmitted in a similar way,” says RK Singal, chairman, department of internal medicines, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi.

Breaking the habit of needless face-touching can also help control the spread of many other germs, for instance, H1N1 virus.

(Some information sourced from WHO and UNICEF advisories)

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