Which Soap Is Best for Preventing Outbreaks? by Dr. Joseph Mercola for Mercola
With the novel coronavirus COVID-19 spreading across the world at a rapid clip, health authorities are stressing the importance of frequent hand-washing. Indeed, strategic hand-washing is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to reduce the spread of the virus and your own risk of illness.
Airport Hand Hygiene Can Significantly Reduce Pandemic Risks
As noted in a December 2019 study1 in the Risk Analysis journal, which investigated the spread patterns of flu-type viruses, intercontinental flights allow infectious pathogens to spread like wildfire.
Aside from the speed of which an infected person can travel from one country to the next, the risk of spreading pandemic disease is exacerbated when traveling by air for the simple reason that airplanes crowd large groups of people together in a confined space with scarce opportunities for proper hygiene.
Were people to more frequently wash their hands during travel, the risk of pandemic infection could be significantly reduced — by as much as 69% according to this study — which is nothing to sneeze at. As explained by the authors:2
“Here, we use epidemiological modeling and data-driven simulations to elucidate the role of individual engagement with hand hygiene inside airports in conjunction with human travel on the global spread of epidemics.
We find that, by increasing travelers’ engagement with hand hygiene at all airports, a potential pandemic can be inhibited by 24% to 69%.
In addition, we identify 10 airports at the core of a cost-optimal deployment of the hand-washing mitigation strategy. Increasing hand-washing rate at only those 10 influential locations, the risk of a pandemic could potentially drop by up to 37%.
Our results provide evidence for the effectiveness of hand hygiene in airports on the global spread of infections that could shape the way public-health policy is implemented with respect to the overall objective of mitigating potential population health crises.”
The most germ-ridden surfaces frequently touched by passengers at airports and inside aircraft include self-service check-in screens, gate bench armrests, railings, water fountain buttons, door handles, seats, tray tables and bathroom handles. The 10 key airports with the greatest infection spread rate, according to this study, are:
|LHR — London Heathrow||LAX — Los Angeles International|
|JFK — John F. Kennedy International||CDG — Paris-Charles de Gaulle|
|DXB — Dubai International||FRA — Frankfurt International|
|HKG — Hong Kong International||PEK — Beijing Capital International|
|SFO — San Francisco International||AMS — Amsterdam Airport Schiphol|
Face-Touching Is a Vector for Disease Transmission
If you think your hands are clean simply because they look and feel clean, it’s time to rethink. Viruses and bacteria are microscopic, and there’s absolutely no way to ascertain whether your hands are germ-free. The assumption needs to be that they’re not.
Frequently washing your hands during influenza season and other pandemic outbreaks is a crucial safety measure, in part because most people touch their face an average of 23 times per hour.3
As noted in the American Journal of Infection Control,4 habituated face-touching behavior is a vector for self-inoculation and transmission of infectious diseases. In other words, each time you touch your face, you run the risk of introducing disease-causing pathogens into your body as they transfer from your hands to your face. According to this study:5
“On average, each of the 26 observed students touched their face 23 times per hour. Of all face touches, 44% involved contact with a mucous membrane, whereas 56% of contacts involved nonmucosal areas. Of mucous membrane touches observed, 36% involved the mouth, 31% involved the nose, 27% involved the eyes, and 6% were a combination of these regions.”
The take-home message here is that mouth, nose and eye touching is a common, and largely unconscious, behavior by which infectious diseases are spread. The remedy for this behavior is to make sure you wash your hands on a regular basis, and especially after certain activities, such as:
- Anytime you visit a health care facility — Before entering a patient’s room and before leaving the premises, be sure to wash your hands. An estimated 1 in 4 patients also leave the hospital with a superbug on their hands, suggesting patients also need to become more mindful about hand-washing when in a health care setting6
- Directly before you eat
- After you’ve used the restroom, and after each diaper change
- Before and after caring for someone who is ill, and/or treating a cut or wound
When out in public, the opportunities for picking up germs on your hands are incalculable. Door knobs, door and cart handles, counters, railings, airport security bins — every conceivable surface has the potential for contamination.