With most of us under lockdown, since May 2021, and an all-time record of more than 13,000 cases in only one day, I am asking myself, will this pandemic be ever over? will it get worst? or is there an end in sight?
While I do not have answers to these questions, I do my best, by staying staying at home, keeping my hygiene high, observing the standard operating procedure almost religiously…and wonder if there is more I can do about this pandemic?
It is frustrating to start the lockdown, back in May, with less than 3,000 cases a day, to go through several stages of tightened lockdown rules and having to see how the cases go up day by day. Some of us may have ideas or recommendations how the government should or should not handle the situation. But to me the most important question is: “What can I do to protect myself and my loved ones during this pandemic?”.
Well, it may come as a surprise, but there is something I can do about it. In fact everyone of us can do something to protect themselves.
We can keep our hygiene high at all time.
You may ask yourself how?
By washing your hands often and thoroughly!
Keep Your Hygiene High!
There is something each one of us can do to protect ourselves, our loved ones and everyone else from germs, bacteria and viruses…and this is as simple as washing your hands often and thoroughly with soap .
I have developed a pandemic rule for myself. On top of the regular hand washing routine, every time I come from outside my house, the first thing I do, is to wash my hands thoroughly with hand wash. As trivial as it sounds, this simple procedure is very effective.
Let me tell you why!
It may come as no surprise that germs, bacteria and viruses are everywhere. Since our limbs, mostly our hands, are the organs we use to touch different objects and surfaces, our hands are constantly in touch with germs, bacteria and even viruses. Most of the germs and bacteria are not harmful to us, or we are already immune against certain viruses. We may not get affected by these microorganisms, but this does not mean that we are not helping them to move around (i.e. getting transmitted to others).
Washing hands is a very effective way to “get rid” of these ‘unwelcome guests’. Studies have proven that washing hands with soap and water for 15 seconds can reduce the germs, bacteria or viruses on our hands by 90%. It was further proved that adding another 15 seconds to your initial 15 seconds hand washing routine can reduce the presence of germs, bacteria and viruses on your hands to 99,9%!!!
It may sound like hand wash is the underrated super-hero, well it’s not quite like that, cause soap and its ‘loyal ally’ water are not killing the germs, bacteria or viruses, but they remove them from your hands. Water alone does a good job at removing germs, bacteria or viruses from your hands. It is the hand wash which adds the last bit, by pulling unwanted material off the skin into the water and therefore off our hands.
How Does Hand Wash Work?
For the purpose of this article, I am going to use the terms “hand wash” and “soap” as synonyms. Since this a topic by itself, I will address this subject in a separate article.
Soap is made of pin-shaped molecules, which have a head which bonds with water and a tail which avoids water by any means, looking rather to bond with oils and fats. When the hand wash gets in contact with water, the molecules either float solitarily or assemble themselves with other molecules to so called micelles. When assembled into micelles, the molecules heads are pointing outwards and their tails inwards.
Some germs, bacteria or viruses have membranes that resemble double-layered micelles with two bands of tails sandwiched between two rings of heads. These membranes are studded with important proteins that allow germs, bacteria or viruses to infect cells and perform vital tasks that keep the microorganism alive.
When you wash your hands with soap and water, you surround any microorganism on your skin with hand wash molecules. The tails of the soap molecules attempt to evade the water. In the process, they wedge themselves into the lipid envelopes of germs, bacteria or viruses, and start prying them apart.
Hand wash molecules disrupt the chemical bonds that allow bacteria, germs or viruses to stick to our skin, lifting them off. Micelles can also form around particles of dirt and fragments of germs, bacteria or viruses, suspending them in ‘floating cages’. When you rinse your hands with water, all the microorganisms that have been damaged, trapped and isolated by soap molecules are washed away and your hands become clean.
Types of Soaps
Since its discovery, millennia ago, soap has been crafted in different shapes and sizes. The most common classifications distinguish between toilet soaps (also called hand soaps), used for hand washing, and non-toilet soaps, which are key components for most lubricating greases and thickeners.
The most common toilet soap is bar soap and liquid hand wash.
The production of bar soaps usually entails saponification of triglycerides, which are vegetable or animal oils and fats. An alkaline solution (often lye or sodium hydroxide) induces the saponification whereby the triglyceride fats first hydrolyse into salts of fatty acids. Glycerol (also know as Glycerin) is being liberated. The Glycerin can remain in the hand wash product as a softening agent, although it is sometimes separated and used for other products.
For making toilet soaps, oils and fats are usually derived from coconut, olive, or palm oil. Each oil offers a different fatty acid content, resulting in soaps of distinct feel. For example, seed oils make for softer and milder hand wash.
Liquid Hand Wash
Liquid soap is an invention of 19th century. The first liquid hand wash were derived from palm and olive oils. The liquid soap gained popularity rapidly, being used for cleaning things other than skin as well.
Since oil supplies became scarce during World War II, the production of liquid hand wash was altered to cater to available ingredients, such as surfactants. These ingredients have been engineered to perform well in virtually any temperature or level of water hardness, which makes liquid soaps very effective.
I think it is safe to say, that every hand wash can remove microorganisms. When in contact with water, soap molecules will remove germs, bacteria and viruses from our skin. However, antibacterial functions can be enhanced by additives. Most antibacterial soaps come in liquid form.
Tea Tree Oil is a natural and plant based antibacterial additive. Also known as Melaleuca Oil, Tea Tree Oil is an essential oil with a fresh odour and a colour that ranges from pale yellow to nearly colourless and clear. It is derived from the leaves of the tea tree, Melaleuca Alternifolia, native to Australia.
Tea Tree Oil is known as useful for a wide range of fungal or bacterial skin infections. It contains a number of compounds, that have been shown to kill certain germs, bacteria and viruses. These germ-fighting properties make Tea Tree Oil a valued natural remedy for treating bacterial and fungal skin conditions, preventing infection and promoting healing. That makes Tea Tree Oil an ideal natural sanitizer.
The choice of soap is more or less a personal one. (I will talk about soaps in depth, in a separate article). Whatever you may chose, just make sure to use it often and it will help you to keep your hygiene high at every time.
It’s Up to Us!
In a century where technology defines most of our lives, one may wonder that soap and water, an age old recipe, remains one of our most valuable hygiene practices. Throughout the course of a day, we pick up all sorts of microorganisms from our surroundings. When we touch our eyes, nose or mouths, a habit, which may happen every other minute, we welcome potentially dangerous microorganisms into our bodies.
As an interesting fact, almost 200 years ago Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician, discovered that if doctors washed their hands, far fewer women died after childbirth. At the time, germs, bacteria or viruses were not seen as cause for disease, and many doctors ridiculed the notion that a lack of personal hygiene could be responsible for their patients’ deaths. Mocked by his colleagues, Dr. Semmelweis was eventually locked-up in an asylum, where he was severely beaten by guards and died from infected wounds.
Washing your hands with hand wash and water is one of the habits that can significantly slow the rate of a pandemic and limit the number of infections, preventing a disastrous overburdening of hospitals and medical institutions. But, this only works if each one of us washes hands frequently and thoroughly.
Here is a simple recipe: Grab a hand wash, lather up with water, scrub your palms and the back of your hands, interlace your fingers, rub your fingertips against your palms, and twist a soapy fist around your thumbs. Do that for 15 seconds (ideally 30 seconds) and you made a great step to protect yourself and your love ones.
Hand Wash is your best ally against germs, bacteria or viruses, when used properly and often. Next time you feel the urge to skip washing your hands just remember:
Every 15 seconds invested in keeping your hygiene high will bring the end of the Covid-19 pandemic closer…and maybe, if all of us are investing just a few minutes a day for our hygiene, we will master this unpresented crisis very soon.