Why washing your hands and social distancing works
Prof. Linda Eissenberg, Ph.D., is a scientist at Washington University School of Medicine who spent more than two decades studying microbial pathogens. She now works in oncology as an assistant professor of internal medicine.
“Why washing your hands and social distancing works”, St. Louis Post – Dispatch, Apr 4, 2020
What you really need to know during this pandemic is how risky different behaviors are. Although I’m not a public health worker, I’m a scientist who, for 26 years, studied how respiratory pathogens cause diseases. Whether it’s a virus, bacterium, fungus or protozoan, it has to get into the respiratory tract. This can happen directly when you inhale droplets exhaled by an infected individual who is very nearby. What’s more, numbers matter. The more particles you inhale, the more apt you are to get infected. For most pathogens, inhaling just a few won’t hurt you, but if you inhale more, you may get sick faster or even get a worse case of the disease.
As for contaminated surfaces, remember that viruses can’t move around on their own. Think of them like glitter. If a “glittered” person pats your dog, the glitter won’t move to another part of a dog’s fur, although the dog might shake it off when it scratches or spread it around by licking. Again, when touching that dog or anything else, it’s still a numbers game. You’re unlikely to remove all that glitter with a single touch, but you still might want to wash your hands, or discourage the interaction in the first place.
There is scientific evidence that some viruses can move from your eyes into your respiratory tract. You may have noticed this drainage path if you ever used eye drops and had to blow your nose a few minutes later. By washing your hands and avoiding touching your face, you keep from rubbing virus into your eyes and nose. Since most people don’t wash their faces as often as their hands, glitter remains there ready to be rubbed around for a while. Health care workers need goggles or face shields and masks in case infected patients cough, breath or sneeze on them repeatedly or for prolonged periods. Because of the numbers game, just walking past someone in the grocery store or on a sidewalk or standing six feet away from someone doesn’t put you at enough risk to benefit from a mask.
Putting food in your mouth and swallowing it is not a very efficient way for a pathogen to get into the respiratory tract, especially since the chemical makeup of the saliva may help break down the virus. However, when people eat, they often wipe their mouths and touch other parts of their faces. Hence the advice to wash those hands before you eat.
Understanding open and closed systems helps to understand the social distancing advice. Most situations on planet Earth are to some degree open systems in which people and things move in and out of contact with one another. A tightly closed system would be like astronauts in a space capsule where nothing and no one from the outside can get in. So minimizing contact achieves a more closed, less risky setting. Being outside is fine, especially if it’s a sunny day since the sun’s ultraviolet light helps inactivate viruses. Delivery and pick-up services are good because it involves fewer people. Just keep washing your hands whenever your relatively closed system gets breached.
What if you’re in a situation where you can’t wash your hands? That’s why hand sanitizers were invented. They’re not more effective than rubbing your hands with soap and water. They’re a portable substitute that might be quickly available when plumbing isn’t.
While all ages are vulnerable to the coronavirus, the risk of a severe disease increases exponentially with age. Remember exponential curves from your high school math classes? They’re not straight lines. They suddenly curve steeply upwards. This sharp upward turn in severe disease risk happens at about age 60, and the risk is far worse at 80, likely because older people tend to have more underlying health conditions. The spread of the virus in communities is also exponential. Time and again in multiple localities, the number of infected people has increased slowly at first and then suddenly ballooned. The more infected people there are, the more likely you are to come in contact with them, especially since some have mild or not-apparent infections.
Remember the numbers game, wash your hands and keep your distance. Putting knowledge into practice helps us all.
“Because of the numbers game, just walking past someone in the grocery store or on a sidewalk or standing six feet away from someone doesn’t put you at enough risk to benefit from a mask.”
True, but … wearing a mask if you are infected reduces the distance that other people need to stay away from you to be safe. The benefit to the wearer is at the system level.
i saw a video where brings up a question, if not vaccine, or masks, or distancing then how do those who do none of these things, think they will not get sick? and make other sick? and some of these will die, or have long COVID? the virus care not a wit about our freedoms, or how we live, or gathering together, it really likes these people who are helping it, by not being vaccinated, or wearing a mask, or social distancing, cause they help is spread. and until it stops, we will never get back to ‘normal’
“i saw a video where brings up a question, if not vaccine, or masks, or distancing then how do those who do none of these things, think they will not get sick?”
The word “think” is doing all the work in that sentence. It assumes facts not in evidence.
other than most of the covid infections being from unvaccinated people. like 90% or more. and how can those that are trying to being safe, consider that its even realistic to do so?
The data clearly show that the best and most realistic way to be safe is to be vaccinated. Once you are vaccinated, social distancing indoors among strangers is probably the best next step.
I gave up the handwashing thing early on, but stayed with masks and social distancing until a couple of weeks after my second Pfizer shot and still today when in the company of those who as doing likewise. Had I worked in healthcare or anywhere with high risk of exposure then I probably would have washed the skin off my hands, but I am retired and only come out to buy groceries. My wife works from home and rarely leaves, only to get her hair and nails done and to visit relatives.
Before vaccination then I shopped grocers during their early AM senior hours.
essay here is the most sensible thing I have read on AB so far. No hysteria, no innuendo, and the facts alleged fit better into my understanding of what is relevant and useful than those alleged by others. I say alleged not to disparage them, but to remind myself and others that we never know all the facts.
Moreover, Arne’s comment was a useful addition to the facts in Linda’s essay.
I’m not so sure about the conclusions people who read Linda’s essay will come to. Can’t…as a strict matter of my own logic system…even be sure of the conclusions I reach, but I am pretty comfortable with those.
I hate to sound like I am always picking a fight with you, but I am going to offer a couple of observations about your comment here…for your consideration:
you said, “The word “think” is doing all the work in that sentence. It assumes facts not in evidence.”
It takes a little work here to figure out that you are saying the people assume facts not in evidence, not that ew is assuming facts not in evidence because he has no evidence what people think. But this is a useless observation doing nothing but asserting your superiority over people you don’t agree with. It is not “science” and is (only) a kind of pseudo-logic…not that I don’t indulge in it myself at times.
you said, “The data clearly show that the best and most realistic way to be safe is to be vaccinated.”
the phrase “clearly shows” in another unwarranted assertion of authority contributing nothing of “scientific” value. I believe, so far, the available information suggests that the best way to avoid infection is to avoid close contact with other people, and wear masks and other protection when you can’t avoid close contact, and wash your hands after possible contamination…etc. This may not seem “realistic” to you, but since the data show that even vaccinated people are now getting infected…and we don’t know the long term effects of even non-lethal infection, or the mutation and spread of a virus which has evolved not to kill it’s host so as to be around long enough to find another host in a population with otherwise widespread immunity…
Now, I might be wrong…probably am wrong at least in part… but I suggest that “clearly shows” is a personal feeling and not a verifiable scientific fact.
oh, yes, the “available information” if I’ve got it right, shows that the evolved virus does kill unvaccinated hosts, but there is no reason not to at least suspect that it has evolved at least to not kill vaccinated hosts….and can hang around in the body of its vaccinated host long enough to find new hosts, vaccinated or unvaccinated.
so let’s say, “the data” shows vaccination will reduce chance of death, and may…the numbers game…slow the rate of new infection enough to ultimately lead to the fabled herd immunity. but “may” is doing all the work in this sentence… “the data” don’t yet show this, but at least to me it takes some of the pressure out of the doctrine of lining everyone up and giving the shot whether they want it or not.